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  • Plot: Herder belts it out of the literary ballpark with this solid novel, covering all the standard YA bases: an insecure teen narrator, sexist jocks, small-town sports rivalries, unrequited young love, a barrier-breaking girl, and the devastation of suicide.

    Prose: The author's prose captures the interactions of his characters with admirable fidelity to the tone of teens; though the novel is pitched to young readers, the writing is mature enough for adults, enlivened by frequent wit.

    Originality: Herder offers up an original tale of gender-barrier busting on the baseball field and adolescent high school cliques off the field.

    Character Development: George and Ruth—competing as starting pitchers—are well-rounded, multi-dimensional central characters. The large cast of teammates, schoolmates, and townspeople are equally well-developed.

    Blurb: Set in the world of small-town high school baseball, this is pitch-perfect storytelling.

  • Alone Together

    by Robert Hill

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Hill’s novel explores the sudden and mysterious death of technology and the subsequent creation of a dystopia and the inevitable reversion of human beings to old-fashioned methods and traditions, delving into darker and darker themes as the book progresses.

    Prose: The language in Hill's novel drips with suspense and eerie tension, as the Strykers navigate a brave new world teeming with dangerous possibilities. However, efforts to accurately depict the young narrator’s voice can come off as forced and inauthentic at times.

    Originality: Though this book will remind readers of the Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and Stephen King’s The Mist, the author does a superb job at creating the unique storyline of the Strykers’ fight for survival.

    Character Development: With the death of civilization, comes the transformation of an entire community and society. Kyle Stryker is a distinct character who witnesses these unstoppable changes—and grows and changes himself over the course of the narrative.

  • The Immundus

    by Christina Enquist

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Enquist weaves a tightly wound plot that builds in all the right places and is paced properly. As this is a tale that takes place hundreds of years in the future, references to current brand names and pop culture can be distracting at times, but overall this is a wonderful story.

    Prose: The Immundus is a very well-written story. The author displays expert word choice and flow management, and the writing is free of errors. 

    Originality: A novel with high technology, genetic mutations, and dark secrets is not a new concept, but this novel pulls the positive elements of this crafted world together into something of its own. This novel also offers readers storytelling through a unique and memorable voice.

    Character Development: All of the characters in this book are well developed. The character of Nia offers an intriguing backstory and motivational elements, and the rest of the characters are provided with enough time to develop their own purposes within the plot. A few characters feel extraneous, but they do not distract from the book's overall goal and message.

  • Secret Keeper

    by Jane Alvey Harris

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Emily’s struggle to protect her family from a father who molested her and has recently been released from jail is poignant and inspiring. Emily’s childhood fantasy world, reached via self-hypnosis, makes the reader question the borders between reality and fantasy.

    Prose: Harris’s descriptions conjure vivid images through a combination of precision and metaphor. Emily’s voice is engaging and authentic.

    Originality: The premise of hypnosis as a foundation for the fantastical First Realm is original, but better still is the skill with which Harris executes this concept. The thematic focus on healing is uncommon in novels that feature abuse.

    Character Development: Although this book has a relatively large cast of characters, it won't take readers long to become familiar with them. Emily endears with her self-awareness and raw thought processes.

  • Hamlette

    by M Pepper Langlinais

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Langlinais artfully mirrors without overly mimicking the play-within-a-play of Shakespeare's Hamlet with a storyline that is fast-paced and engagingly plotted.

    Prose: The author's prose crackles with rhythmic writing and colorful similes, ably capturing young voices while gently mocking the weirdness of adults.

    Originality: Though the book's plot tracks the classic play Hamlet, it does so with a great deal of fluidity and flair.

    Character Development: Langlinais takes familiar YA types and invests them with refreshing resonance.

  • Absorbing Lives

    by LT Anderson

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: Anderson offers an often captivating and well-plotted dystopian story. Worldbuilding sections can rely too heavily on exposition, while innovative ideas have intriguing potential but can overwhelm the story. Nevertheless, Anderson presents a chilling reality marked by stark societal divisions and oppression.

    Prose: Written in a commanding and hard-hitting style, Anderson's prose effectively conveys the tension and terror of a world erupting in chaos, with a doomed love affair at its center.

    Originality: The narrative is evocative of past dystopian works, yet Anderson capably creates a dark and cruel multidimensional story with memorable imagery.

    Character Development: Anderson presents a cast of memorable characters that expose human nature at its cruelest: power hungry and bent on genocidal annihilation. Others are vibrant and relatable, expressing an authentic range of emotional responses to trauma.

    Blurb: Desperate times call for desperate measures in Anderson’s (a father-daughter writing team) dystopic future. As the divide between social classes rages on,  succubus-like Changers are pitted against the stubborn and rebellious Punks, with malicious and benevolent Infiltrators posing threats at every turn.

  • Taco

    by John E DeJesus

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The story of a Puerto Rican boy growing up in 1970s Brooklyn is warm, vivid, and emotionally resonant. DeJesus crafts the narrative in short vignettes, leading to a collectively evocative, if episodic, reading experience.

    Prose: DeJesus writes evenly, with candid details that capture the flavor of his protagonist's tight knit community.

    Originally: Though thematically and structurally reminiscent of other works, DeJesus provides a distinctive child narrator and lively cultural references that create a memorable and highly personal story.

    Character Development: The narration initially presents an unevenness of tone, which may cause some confusion among readers regarding the titular character's age. DeJesus develops multi-generational cast of characters over the course of the short chapters. The author conveys the joy of community, the agony of poverty, and the volatility of relationships with grace.

  • The Smallest Thing

    by Lisa Manterfield

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot:   This novel adapts the historical case of a town consumed by the plague to a modern tale of a township surviving under quarantine. The book follows a young woman, Emmott, who yearns to leave her village as she comes of age amidst extraordinary circumstances and discovers a love for her community. Emmott’s emotional growth is paced appropriately in parallel with the reaction to and fight against the mysterious disease plaguing the town.

    Prose:  Composed from a first-person perspective, the novel is well-written, though occasionally the descriptions seem to belie the character’s life experience. For the most part, the narrative voice feels organic, and it deftly balances interiority with action. The dialogue is similarly effective and authentic.

    Originality:  The characters and township are adapted from an actual historical event and updated to fit in the modern world. The overall concept is a clever idea and the book offers an original story, executed satisfyingly.

    Character Development: Emmott’s characterization is well-crafted and her progression to maturity in the face of crisis is handled skillfully. The result is a character that is much more complex and multi-dimensional than many YA protagonists. Secondary characters, particularly love interest Aiden and Emmott's father, are well-rendered and what they represent to Emmott remains pertinent to the emotional and external conflicts and resolutions in the story.

    Blurb:   This book offers a thrilling modern adaption of a lesser-acknowledged but important historical tragedy.

     

  • A MOON IN ALL THINGS - 2018

    by Jennifer Comeau

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This book is a coming-of-age story that grapples with colonialism and the conflict between Christianity and traditional folklore in Ireland. The plot is paced well, and thematic and fantasy elements are woven into the arc nicely.

    Prose: The novel is well written. The pacing is consistent, dialogue reads naturally, and descriptions feature language that lends to the book’s themes of naturalism and folkloric mysticism.

    Originality: The crux of the novel is the disconnect between the natural, folkloric world and the advancement of human civilization, here largely represented by the Catholic Church. The attention to detail and the authenticity of the setting and time period help the storyline explore this in a satisfying manner. The characters and scenario are both original and captivating.

    Character Development: Morrigan is a complicated character whose emotional development and growth drive the primary coming-of-age plot. There are a number of supporting characters, and their individual convictions and preoccupations support the thematic developments in the text. The supporting characters have their own emotional arcs that play well with the core plot arc.

    Blurb: A lush and imaginative tale.

  • The Trail Rules

    by Melanie Hooyenga

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Mike’s story is solidly plotted and well paced, and it shows that a change of heart is only the beginning step in understanding who you are.

    Prose: The writing has an immediacy and works to bring readers inside of Mike’s head. And while there are some melodrama moments, they never overwhelm the narrative, instead, they keep the emotions raw and honest.

    Originality: While contemporary teen coming-of-age stories are nothing new, combining a female lead with an adventure sport helps this book stand out from the crowd.

    Character Development: The characters here ring true, especially Mike, whose evolution and growing self-awareness propel the story forward. The secondary characters experience little growth but hint at complexities in their own lives.

  • Mystery at the Raleigh Tavern

    by Jami Borek

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This charming novel is soundly structured. The author maintains a sense of urgency throughout and drops just enough clues to keep readers turning pages.

    Prose: The story is simply told and moves along at a good clip. This book is ideal fare for middle-grade readers.

    Originality: The historical setting adds to the originality of the work while affording some painless educational insights into the past.

    Character Development: The characters here could use additional development. The girls have distinctive interests, but similar personalities. Fleshing out the players to make them more unique would improve this already solid work.

  • Vincent and The Dissidents

    by Christopher Locke

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: An intelligent story of rescue and revenge, this inspiring yet dark tale is plotted with precision, allowing multiple animal viewpoints to take on potent psychological force.

    Prose: Descriptions of animals tortured and suffering for human consumption or monetary gain, along with inventive introspection, enkindle empathy as well as moral awareness. The well-crafted prose elicits powerful emotions, drawing attention to a world intent on subjugating and killing animals, rather than respecting their right to live in freedom.

    Originality: Personification of animals remains a staple in children’s and young adult fiction, yet rarely does a novel reach out to readers in such a sophisticated fashion. Buried deep within each of the animal characters is a feeling, thinking creature more sympathetic than some human beings.

    Character Development: Abused animals in domestic and commercial environments are portrayed with human characteristics in a moving fashion. The characters are fully formed and believable, and readers will care about their lives and stories.

  • Miss E.

    by Brian Herberger

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Herberger's plot is consistent, well-conceived, and engaging. The story of Bets and her surprising new friendship in a new town will resonate with readers.

    Prose: The author paints a vivid picture of life in small-town California. Readers will find the text easy to read and clear from start to finish. The dialogue between characters is believable and heartwarming.

    Originality: A coming-of-age story with a mysterious figure at the forefront is an intriguing premise. It is also refreshing to see a strong teenage female as the protagonist. Bets’s story will inspire readers of all ages.

    Character Development: The characters are full of emotion and depth—readers will particularly enjoy seeing Bets and her mother evolve. Through Bets, we also meet other powerful and well-drawn characters.

  • The Boys Who Danced with the Moon

    by Mark Paul Oleksiw

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This skillfully crafted YA mystery novel revolves around a past event that continues to haunt its protagonist. Oleksiw offers a realistic portrait of a suburban town in the 1980s and of the ties that bind individuals to the place of their origins.  

    Prose: Oleksiw works in a clear, lyrical prose that effectively conveys the unfolding events, while kneading at the more elusive aspects of the story, as filtered through time, tightly held secrets, and memory.

    Originality: Oleksiw deftly blends a coming-of-age story with elements of a mystery, resulting in an insightful and refreshing YA novel with crossover appeal to an older audience.

    Character Development: While the protagonist remains somewhat of an enigma throughout the novel, readers will come to know him through his relationships with other characters. The circumstances of the mystery will keep readers fully engaged, as will Kiran’s quest to rediscover, or perhaps reclaim, his soul.

  • A Thief's Game

    by Caylen D. Smith

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: The plot is well constructed. The narrative proceeds at a moderate pace, never losing momentum. The adventuresome spirit of Emersyn’s tale plays nicely with the palace intrigue that forms the backbone of the novel’s suspenseful tone. The dialogue is authentic and represents the differences in characters appropriately.   

    Prose: The writing is strong. Descriptions are brief but detailed and interior moments don’t bog down the action. Most of the story is told directly through action scenes and dialogue rather than lengthy exposition.

    Originality: The story borrows general strokes from the myth of Robin Hood, though they are only loosely connected. The plot and characters are wholly original or only superficially reminiscent of their inspirational counterparts. The book does an excellent job of playing off the idea of Robin Hood without relying on that inspiration for content. The world the story inhabits is interesting and slowly explained through small details.

    Character Development:  The characters are very well-developed. The young female protagonist, Emersyn, is a rakish hero who is just complicated enough to propel the narrative. The book offers a wide range of supporting characters, whose goals and allegiances are not always clear, leading to a suspenseful and exciting read.

    Blurb: A creative re-imagining of the Robin Hood myth full of excitement and memorable characters.

  • Munching on the Sun

    by Mark Paul Oleksiw

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: Oleksiw’s Munching on the Sun is a fast-paced, skillfully plotted thriller that bites off a little more than it can actually chew, but still manages to discuss important, dark themes

    Prose: Oleksiw’s prose is meticulously descriptive and free of errors. The dialogue in the novel is spot-on, while the subject matter will be appealing to and appropriate for mature young adults.

    Originality: Oleksiw’s work is certainly original. The events that Lukas experiences in the novel are both relatable and realistic, and they will resonate with readers.

    Character Development: The author's characters live poignant, tumultuous, and exciting lives. Lukas borders on the melodramatic at times, but as his heartbreaking story is revealed, readers will understand his motivations, fears, and desires.

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