February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Andre Norton Award Nominees for Outstanding Speculative Fiction Announced

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced their nominees for the 2015 Nebula Awards, including the list of Andre Norton Award nominees. The Norton Award is given annually to “outstanding young adult and middle grade fiction that includes speculative content, such as science fiction and fantasy.”

This year’s list of nine Norton nominees includes four SLJ Best Books of 2015: Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song, Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper, Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, and Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona. SFWA members will cast their votes from March 1 to March 30, with the winners being announced in spring and the awards given out at the annual Nebula Awards Banquet in May 2016.

Below are SLJ’s reviews for the nominated titles.

CONNOLLY, Tina. Seriously Wicked. 208p. Tor Teen. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780765375162;000 Seriously Wicked ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466880740.
Gr 6 Up–Camellia just received a 61 percent on her algebra test and her teacher wants to have a parent-teacher conference—which is a problem because her mother is a witch bent on world domination. When Camellia’s mother summons a demon, who accidentally gets sucked into the cute new boy at school, the teen races to find a spell that will save him, finally admitting to herself that she might be a witch too. In Connolly’s witty, effervescent novel, mother-daughter angst and high school drama is spiced with a 21st-century flavor. The author constructs a magical and whimsical world, where ancient spells echo math word problems and Witchipedia is just a cell phone click away. Readers, especially those who are fans of fantasy and YA romance will adore this clever genre mash-up. Connolly has a gift for creating characters that are familiar teen archetypes yet written with engaging depth: from quirky Jenah who wears fishnet tights and claims to read auras to former-best-friend-turned-enemy Sparkle, whose mean-girl tendencies hide a deeper secret. In a refreshing turn from the tokenism prevalent in some teen fiction, several of the major characters are people of color and play pivotal roles in the protagonist’s life. Camellia herself is a heroine who grows in confidence as the pressure (and the plot) mounts and whose resourceful ingenuity (and knowledge of algebra and chemistry) will have female readers cheering. VERDICT This is the beginning of a fun yet sophisticated series that should win the author new fans.–Evelyn Khoo Schwartz, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

ELLIOTT, Kate. Court of Fives. 448p. (The Fives: Bk. 1). Little, Brown. Aug. 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 000 Court of Fives9780316364195; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316364249.
Gr 7-10–Set in an ancient civilization reminiscent of the Egyptians and the Mayans, this is a high fantasy novel that explores race, class, and gender struggles in a patriarchal society. Jessamy is the daughter of a Patron general and a Commoner mother. Even though her parents’ union is illegal, Jessamy is brought up with the wealth and privilege of the Patron class. However, that privilege comes at the price of her own independence. The heroine cannot publicly compete in the Fives, a prestigious athletic competition, so she trains in secret. Then her father comes home unexpectedly from battle and the family is given the honor of attending a Fives game. Jessamy competes, but even masked, her identity is revealed. Her family quickly comes under the scrutiny of the deceptive Lord Gargaron who breaks apart the teen’s family, even arranging a new marriage for her father. The protagonist is then sent to a Fives training camp while her pregnant mother and sisters are imprisoned. Jessamy seeks help from Lord Gargaron’s nephew, a kind nobleman of Patron birth and a Fives competitor. Together, they risk their lives to save Jessamy’s family. Elliott has created a world of warring kingdoms where the victors have built their civilization on the backs of the conquered. Jessamy is a loyal and strong female protagonist who fights against injustice. VERDICT This trilogy opener will be a hit with readers who love action-packed fantasy adventures.–Kimberly Garnick Giarratano, Rockaway Township Public Library, NJ


HARDINGE, Frances. Cuckoo Song. 416p. Abrams/Amulet. May 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 000 Cuckoo Song9781419714801.
Gr 5 Up–Ever since her older brother died in World War I, things have been tense for Triss and her family. After Triss suffers a horrible accident, her memory is hindered and all of a sudden she feels a strange, insatiable hunger that can only be calmed by digesting unusual items. From here, events proceed in an unexpected way as magical promises are made, relationships are tested, and characters question what it means to be alive. Mysterious letters and dangerous strangers create a mood of suspicion and paranoia as pieces of the story fall into place at just the right moment. Many secondary characters make understandable but regrettable mistakes throughout, cementing themselves as realistic and complex individuals. The beautiful writing is full of rich language that is reminiscent of an old fairy tale. Fans of Hardinge will not be disappointed in this latest spine-chilling, creative work that offers a nuanced depiction of grief within the structure of a well-wrought fantasy.–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

Cuckoo Song was named an SLJ Best Book of 2015.

KORNHER-STACE, Nicole. Archivist Wasp. 248p. ebook available. Small Beer. May 2015. pap. 000 Archivist Wasp$14. ISBN 9781618730985.
Gr 9 Up–In a desolate town haunted by the souls of the dead, Wasp must fight three other girls to the death to retain the title of Archivist. All her life, Wasp has been told she was chosen by the goddess Catchkeep to capture and study ghosts. She has endured beatings, lived as a hated and feared outcast, and murdered—all in the name of Catchkeep. Yearning to escape her cruel life, she makes a bargain with the ghost of a long-dead super soldier. The ghost promises to help her escape if she can track down his only friend, a fearless female super soldier with a story not so different from Wasp’s. Kornher-Stace has crafted a gritty read that will appeal to fans of violent, postapocalyptic fantasy and science fiction. Teens will empathize with Wasp’s brutal existence and root for her as she struggles to develop her first real relationship. The author parallels the super soldier’s tale of high technology gone awry, told through flashbacks, with Wasp’s story of a corrupt post-civilization society, in order to illustrate what happens when people refuse to learn from past mistakes. Young adults will be able to relate to Wasp’s inner turmoil and her battle to understand a world full of inexplicable hatred and violence. The fast pace and graphic action will draw in reluctant readers. VERDICT A must-have for dystopian fans who prefer to avoid love stories and pat endings.–Kimberly Ventrella, Southwest Oklahoma City Library

LEE, Fonda. Zeroboxer. 360p. ebook available. Flux. Apr. 2015. pap. $11.99. ISBN 000 Zeroboxer9780738743387.
Gr 8 Up–Carr Luka is the king of the Cube, a zero gravity cage fight arena. In his upcoming championship fight, Luka will represent Terrans against a Martian colony and his supporters will cheer, “Make him float!” highlighting the grisly implications of a knockout. Luka’s confidence is shaken, however, when a visit to his mother reveals that his physical prowess is a result of illegal genetic enhancements, making his participation in the sport potentially criminal. Zeroboxer is a delicious mix of two genres: sports and science fiction. The colony rivalry and futuristic details are riveting, and martial arts followers hungering for fight action will not be disappointed. The main character develops a romantic relationship with his brandhelm (publicist) and wrestles with a sense of betrayal by his Uncle Polly and his mother who have always known he was genetically enhanced and hid this from him. Luka also experiences self-doubt as he wonders whether his success is due to his training and hard work or simply to his genetic destiny. This work adeptly combines elements of futuristic TV shows, such as Gattaca (genetics) and Battlestar Gallactica (Terran colonies), and sports program such as Tap Out. VERDICT This gripping sci-fi novel will have teens screaming for a sequel.–Leah Krippner, Harlem High School, Machesney Park, IL

OLDER, Daniel José. Shadowshaper. 304p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Jun. 2015. Tr 000 Shadowshaper$17.99. ISBN 9780545591614; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545591621.
Gr 7 Up–Summer has just started, and Sierra plans to enjoy it, hanging out with her friends in their Brooklyn neighborhood and painting a mural at the local junklot. Then things start to get weird. While she is talking to fellow artist Robbie at the first party of the summer, a zombielike creature disrupts things, Robbie disappears, and she is left to discover that she lives in a world full of magic that she knows nothing about. As she slowly pieces together the mystery of her heritage, Sierra discovers her own powers of ancestral magic and battles the evil professor who is trying to steal them. Robbie is a clear love interest, but he isn’t there to rescue Sierra. Sierra is a tough, confident, body-positive female protagonist of Puerto Rican descent, proud of her ‘fro and curves. The fact that she and Robbie seem to be connecting romantically is portrayed as more of a happy coincidence than the culmination of a lifelong dream of romance. Dialogue is fast paced and authentic to Sierra’s Brooklyn neighborhood, which is vividly described. Readers will find someone to whom they can relate in her diverse group of friends. VERDICT Excellent diverse genre fiction in an appealing package.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

Shadowshaper was named an SLJ Best Book of 2015.

Check out our interview with Daniel José Older.

RUBY, Laura. Bone Gap. 368p. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 000 Bone Gap9780062317605; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062317636.
Gr 10 Up–It is a rare book that sits comfortably on the shelf with the works of Twain, McCullers, Conroy, Stephen King, and D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths–rarer still that a novel combines elements of these authors together. Bone Gap does just this, to superb effect. We start with a boy named Finn and his brother, Sean. Sean is the classic hero: strong, silent, great at everything he does. Finn is a pretty boy whose otherworldly goofiness has earned him the nicknames Spaceman, Sidetrack, and Moonface. Along comes Rosza, a beautiful and damaged young woman, fleeing from some unknown evil. When she disappears, only Finn witnesses her abduction and he is unable to describe her captor. He is also unsure whether she left by force or choice. The author defies readers’ expectations at every turn. In this world, the evidence of one’s senses counts for little; appearances, even less. Heroism isn’t born of muscle, competence, and desire, but of the ability to look beyond the surface and embrace otherworldliness and kindred spirits. Sex happens, but almost incidentally. Evil happens, embodied in a timeless, nameless horror that survives on the mere idea of beauty. A powerful novel.–Nina Sachs, Walker Memorial Library, Westbrook, ME

Bone Gap was named an SLJ Best Book of 2015.

STEVENSON, Noelle. Nimona. illus. by Noelle Stevenson. 272p. ebook available. 000 NimonaHarperCollins/HarperTeen. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062278234; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780062278227.
Gr 7 Up–This celebrated webcomic, a mash-up of medieval culture with modern science and technology, is now available in print. Lord Ballister Blackheart, a knight, has assumed the role of a supervillain in order to expose the nefarious schemes of the kingdom’s front organization, The Institute of Law Enforcement. The kingdom’s champion is Lord Blackheart’s nemesis and former best friend, Sir Ambrose Goldenloin. Blackheart’s prickly relationship with Goldenloin further explores the limits of their friendship. Enter the title character, a brash young shapeshifter who doggedly follows Ballister until he agrees to take her on as a sidekick. Nimona’s skills as a shapeshifter up the ante in the ongoing rivalry between Ambrose and Ballister. Despite her anger management issues, the teen becomes Ballister’s invaluable ally and together they form an alliance of mutual trust and dependence. Action scenes dominate as Nimona shifts with Hulk-like ferocity from frightful creatures such as a fire-breathing dragon to a docile cat or a timid child. Dialogue is fresh and witty with an abundance of clever lines. A complementary color palette of Blackheart’s muddy browns contrasts with Goldenloin’s fresh transparent yellow-greens. Both color schemes highlight Nimona’s intense reds. Readers will note subtle visual differences in webcomic images. The print edition includes an exclusive epilogue not available online. At its core, Nimona is a story of rescue. Each of the main characters rescue allies, friendships, the Kingdom, and ultimately, themselves. VERDICT A vibrant solo work from “Lumberjanes” (Boom!) cocreator.–Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Nimona was named an SLJ Best Book of 2015.

Check out our interview with Noelle Stevenson.

WILDE, Fran. Updraft. 368p. Tor. 2015. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780765377838; ebk. ISBN 000 Updraft9781466858206.
Gr 6-9–Kirit is ready to take her wing test and apprentice as a trader in her sky-bound world of living bone towers. However, her heritage gives her a unique talent that the Singers, who are the ruling class of the City, want to make use of. Kirit is ultimately forced to become a novice in the Spire. There, she learns that the history of her world is different than she has been taught. The misinformation spread to the populations living in the Towers is for their protection, she learns. Over time, Kirit begins to see that the power held within the Spire is damaging to the City and begins to take steps to overthrow the Singers from within. The world of Updraft is complex and unique. The low-tech society set in the sky is both agoraphobic and claustrophobic in nature. Those who own silk wings have mobility and access to information, but those who do not are trapped in their towers. While the world is fascinating, the plot is overly complex. Fortunately, the themes of a corrupt central governing body being challenged by a teen who is able to stand up for what she believes is not new. Readers will be comfortable enough with these tropes to ignore the parts of the plot that are confusing. Lots of aerial fight scenes make for a fast-paced read. Refreshingly, Kirit has close relationships with friends and family, but there is no romance. VERDICT Fans of dystopian fiction who don’t require romance will enjoy this unique setting.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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