The finalists for the 2021 Hugo Awards have been announced. Amid many categories celebrating the best in science fiction for adults, there is also an award for the best YA book. Here are the finalists in that category:
There are only a few people who survived the devastation of the Fly Flu, a combination of an infectious flu carried by ravenous modified bees who will eat any living thing they can find. Nico has grown up in a house with her parents, surviving from one delivery of food to the next. But her mother recently died after losing her mental capabilities and her father appears to have the beginnings of the same problem. Nico’s father has told her tales of caring for a bell that will open a portal in another town, days away. Now Nico must hope that there is truth to her father’s stories as she leaves the shelter of their home and heads into the wilds with her dog. A young person named Kit also survived the Fly Flu. He lives with his mother and adopted siblings in an old movie theater. They grow their own food and try to reach out via radio to other survivors. Kit’s mother also starts to fail, sweating and confused. Now he and his siblings must leave their shelter as well to find a new way to survive. Deliverer is the person who delivered supplies to Nico’s home. Protected by a special suit, they work to try to have as many as possible survive the flu, no matter how many tries it takes.
Arnold has written a complex and layered science fiction novel. With moments of pure horror, the book dances that fine line between sci fi and horror beautifully with the bloodthirsty swarms of insects and the dangerous humans as well. It also incorporates time travel in a way that is delicately threaded through the book, showing up in glimpses and hints before being fully revealed. The writing is exquisitely done, offering clues and puzzles that click together into a whole by the end of the book.
The characters are well written and a pleasure to spend time with. Unique and interesting, they all are fully drawn, even the secondary ones. Nico is a strong character, driven by growing up without others around, she soon finds herself sharing her journey with others. Kit manages to draw others to him naturally, often serving as the bond that holds different groups together. Arnold writes his characters with empathy, care and yet never loses sight of the dangers he is placing them in.
Terrifying, joyous and full of opportunity, this apocalyptic book is never easy or simple. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.
Stella’s hair was not doing what she wanted at all. It was the day of the Big Star Little Gala, so Stella wanted her hair to be special. Her mother suggested that Stella visit her Aunt Ofelia who lived on Mercury for a special style. So Stella hopped onto her hoverboard and headed over. Aunt Ofelia gave her a soft and elegant style, but Stella wasn’t sure it worked for her. Next she visited Aunt Alma on Venus, who created a straight lion’s mane style that took up too much space. Then she tried Aunt Rubi on Mars who gave her a crown of hair that was a bit too much for Stella. Auntie Cielo on Jupiter splashed around while Aunt Iris on Saturn gave Stella space buns. On Uranus, her twin aunts, twisted and braided. Neptune’s visit got her waves. Finally, Stella ended up with her Aunt Solana near the sun, who encouraged her to see her wild hair as a positive. Stella finally incorporated all of the elements of her aunt’s styles into her own plus some of her very own curls too.
Full of positivity, this book celebrates the many, many ways that Black hair can be styled with real flair. It’s great to see a science fiction picture book that focuses on a Black girl exploring the universe and visiting Black women for support. The ending with a focus on individuality and self-expression sets just the right tone of encouragement too. Turn to the back of the book for some information on the different planets in our solar system.
The art is bright and vibrant with the various Black women characters wearing their hair in all sorts of colors and styles. It’s great and funny to see them each style Stella in their own preferred style, until she reaches the final aunt who tells her to be herself.
Inclusive and vibrant, this book explains that we all need to simply be proud of who we are and what our hair does. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Heather has read all kinds of information about outer space and aliens. She longs to leave earth and head into the stars. So out in the woods, she picks a large rock, sits on it and shines her flashlight into the night sky, turning it on and off. She waits in the quiet darkness, until suddenly dazzling light surrounds her. A flying saucer in rainbow lights lands nearby and a friendly alien invites her on board. But when she hears her parents searching for her, Heather leaves the spaceship and returns home. Heater continued to return to the rock for years, growing up and sharing her dreams with her own children. More time passed and Heather came to the rock less often, but occasionally went with a flashlight to shine it into the sky. Then one day, it happened again. Will Heather go with the alien this time?
This picture book uses only the barest of text to support its incredible illustrations. Told primarily in a graphic novel format, the text shares information and back story with the reader. It is particularly effective to ensure that readers see the passage of time as Heather returns to the rock over the years. A handful of sentences sprinkled like stars across the black page.
The illustrations are marvelous, filled with hope and light. The rock anchors many of the images, large and unchanging despite the passage of time. Heather changes over the years, subtly putting on weight around her middle, her hair graying slightly. The light also changes, moving through seasons, streaming through the trees, remaining stubbornly non-rainbow and non-glittery until the dazzling time the spaceship returns.
Satisfying and engaging science fiction for preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
The author of Wilder Girls returns with a novel that is a dangerous mix of fire, family and fate. Margot has always lived with just her mother, struggling to make ends meet. Her mother has strange rules, like always leaving a candle burning. Margot has always wondered about the rest of her family, her father and grandparents. When she discovers a photograph of her grandmother’s home, she finally has the key to find them. She doesn’t expect to enter the town of Phalene and be immediately recognized as a member of their family, and she certainly doesn’t expect her grandmother to be despised, living alone on a ruined farm. When a girl with Margot’s face is found dead, Margot finds herself at the heart of a mystery that she may never escape.
A dynamic combination of horror, mystery and science fiction, this book grabs readers up and doesn’t release them until the final ember dies down. It’s a book that is terrifying but also exceptionally written with a keen sense of pacing, allowing moments of revelation to slow and other moments to race past. Power deeply understands horror, giving readers just enough information to keep them guessing. Her use of a rural setting is marvelous, hearkening back to classics like Children of the Corn.
Margot is a flawed character who is prickly, challenging and demanding. In other words, the perfect heroine for a horror novel. Margot refuses to allow her mother or grandmother to control her, always pushing and questioning what they are doing. It’s what lands her back in Phalene and what gets her into the center of all of the trouble.
Smart, haunting and horrifying, this novel begs to become a horror flick. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Press.
Sarah and her father are meeting the dragon he hired to help clear fields on their farm. Sarah has been forbidden to talk to the dragon, and even more forcefully reminded not to tell it her name. But Sarah can’t think of the dragon as an it. The dragon is remarkable, even though he is a smaller blue dragon. As the dragon, Kazamir, and Sarah get to know one another, they must face the hatred of a local deputy along with Sarah’s boyfriend Jason. Sarah and Jason are the only people of color in town, something that gets unwelcome attention in 1957. But Sarah doesn’t know what Kazamir does, that she is part of a prophecy. The prophecy is also what is drawing an assassin from a dragon worshiping cult towards her. Malcolm is hunting her, but also being trailed by the FBI. As he approaches, he leaves a trail of bodies but also finds himself unexpectedly in love for the first time. As the moment of the prophesy nears, everything is in place but for what?
Ness as always surprises and amazes in this new novel. His world building is remarkable, combining alternative history of the late 1950’s with fantasy into a world that is entirely believable. The novel is layered and complex, becoming even more so as it continues. The book incorporates marvelous science fiction elements as well as it builds, burning hotter and hotter, making its title all the more appropriate.
Ness’ characters are just as complicated as his plot and world building. He spends time making each of the three protagonists fascinating. There is Sarah, a girl who may or may not be trapped in a prophecy but certainly is caught in poverty and yet will not give up. Malcolm may have grown up in a cult and be there weapon of destruction, but new love is a power thing, something that can change a destiny. Kazamir, the dragon, is someone readers will adore from his first sarcastic comment and quirked eyebrow.
Brilliantly built, layered and populated, this is a new world created by a master. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.
The finalists for the 2020 Locus Awards have been announced. The awards are given for the best science fiction and fantasy of the year in a wide variety of categories that include books, magazines, artists, editors and publishers. They have one category specifically for the best YA novel. Here are the finalists in that category: