Hurrah! The CYBIL Awards were announced today! Most of you know I was a judge for the YA Fiction CYBIL, and spent most of my reading time in January with the five finalists, which were all incredible books. I’ve been waiting until the awards were announced to post my reviews of the five YA finalists, so here they are!
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Play List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan – totally rocks. This story grabs you by throat and doesn’t let go. Norah’s character is spot on for the good kid confused by what’s happening around her. Boys, school, demanding friendships –all wrapped up in a blanket of music. I loved seeing the softer side of Nick, — the boy who can quote lines frmo Dirty Dancing right alongside the queercore bassist scene kid. This book captures the fear, confusion and frustration of teenage love beautifully. I particularly liked how the gender lines were blurred –Nick holding hands with Dev, Tris teaching Norah how to kiss –because that is such a true depiction of how boys and girls relate to each other in that scene. My favorite line in the book — “The moshpit doesn’t lie.” One quibble, though. I really liked how Tris was developed as the story went on and how she impacted Nick & Norah’s relationship, but I wish the author had done a little more with Tal, Norah’s ex. We know a lot about Nick’s relationship with Tris, but not so much about Norah & Tal. Of all the books, I think this speaks to contemporary teen life the best.
Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin – This book totally blew me away. I read it in a single sitting. This story of three young children caught up in a whirlwind of neglct and abuse from a wacked out mother is told in in the form of a long letter from the oldest boy to the youngest girl in the family. I was riveted from the first page and even found myself skipping ahead to see what Nikki (the mother) would do next. The growing relationship between Murdoch (a guy two of the kids first encounter as he defends a child against an abusive parent) and the children was handled evenly throughout, and I thought the revelation of Murdoch having been abused as a child was placed well at the end. I think we all knew there was something in his past, but I didn’t suspect the extent of his abuse or the outcome. Aunt Bobbi, Nikki’s sister, and the father were the weakest characters in the story. Their about-face regarding the care of the children was a little too contrived, although the scene between Nikki and Bobbi over Thanksgiving dinner was written beautifully and showed how Bobbi and the kids were still trying to please Nikki and keep her from blowing up. I especially liked the fact that the story didn’t end with Nikki’s death, but with the children moving on with their lives while she drifted. There was such hope at the end of this story, which isn’t something you always find in YA stories.
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson – loved this book completely. It’s 1917 and Hattie, a put-upon orphan with lots of spunk, inherits a land claim in Montana from an uncle she’s never met. She, of course, packs up everything she owns and heads west, where she must “prove” the claim by erecting a daunting amount of fence and bringing in a crop. The story, the characters, the setting — everything clicked. One of the things I loved about this story was Hattie’s perseverance. She kept plugging along in the face of some really difficult challenges, and the scene where she tells Traft that she’s ready to sell just about made me cry. I so wanted to give him a good kick in the butt. The relationship between Hattie and Perilee’s family is also handled really well. The anti-German sentiment exhibited by the townspeople was contrasted beautifully with the images of Karl and Mr. Ebgard as good, honest men. I have to say that I really didn’t see Mattie’s death coming and yeah, that part *did* make me cry! However, this is one of those books that straddle the line between juvenile and young adult. The appeal of this book is somewhat limited — girls who grew up on Little House and Dear America will love it — as will adults who have fond memories of Anne of Green Gables.
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt – It took me a couple tries to get into this one, but once I did, I was hooked. Sixteen year old Simone is confronted with the possibility of meeting her birth mother, an introduction she does not want nor relish. Once they meet, however, their relationship becomes precious, but is ended abruptly by Rivka’s death. At first, I found Simone petulant and annoying, but she grew on me after awhile. I particularly liked her confrontations with the Evil Bitch outside the coffee shop and at the ACLU rally. What unsettled me about this story was the number of budding relationships the author was juggling –Simone and Rivka, Simone and the boyfriend, Cleo and Darius — too many to develop properly. I also thought the Orthodox family was one-dimensional, although I loved how Rivka introduced Simone to the parts of her faith and ritual that were important to her. Simone’s struggle with atheism versus faith was handled well, although I think it could have been developed more.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak– okay. I just don’t get it. I found this book to be weird, depressing, and a chore to read. The writing was spectacular, although I did finally have to listen to this in audio format after I couldn’t stay focused on the book. Zusak has a fabulous way with words and has created imagery far beyond anything I’ve read before, but I was just weighed down by this book. Others loved it, but not my cup o’ tea.