Like the young adult speculative category, the adult speculative category this year leans toward dystopian and futuristic worlds. In fact, Amber Argyle’s Winter Queen is the only true fantasy candidate of the ten finalists in the two speculative categories. Two of the other finalists, C. J. Hill’s Echo in Time (Hill is also a finalist for YA speculative) and Stephanie Black’s The Witnesses, are set in futuristic worlds, though Black’s is more overtly dystopian. The remaining two finalists, Heather B. Moore’s The Heart of the Ocean and Jeffrey Savage’s Dark Memories, are both ghost stories, though their similarities end with that–Moore’s book is fairly romantic, and Savage’s book (which kept me up way past my bedtime) is horror, unusual for a Covenant published book. This is the first Whitney finalist nomination for Argyle, but the others are all familiar names in the Whitney circles.
Amber Argyle, Winter Queen
There’s a lot to like about Argyle’s Winter Queen, starting with this gorgeous cover. I also enjoyed the strong heroine, Ilyenna, who leads the women of her clan and has a confidence most seventeen-year-olds would envy. But when Ilyenna’s clan is ruthlessly attacked and she and a friend are forced to defend themselves against their attackers, Ilyenna finds herself on the brink of death. The winter fairies bring her back to life, but for a price: they want her to be their queen, but to do so would mean abandoning her family and her humanity. Ilyenna refuses, and in consequence finds herself enslaved by the conquering tribe. As she struggles to keep the remnants of her clan together, she finds herself reconsidering the fairies’ offer. Continue reading
Growing up, I was never the young woman who longed for babies of her own. As the oldest of four children born in quick succession, I was not quite five when my youngest brother was born. I have very few memories of growing up with a baby in the home. As a teenager, I babysat, but I always felt vaguely relieved when the parents came home to take charge of their children. And as a young adult, I wasn’t always sure I would marry.
But the experience of having my own children has been something else entirely. Frustrating, tiring, yes–but also fulfilling and even transcendent. Turns out, I’m even one of those odd women who enjoys being pregnant–this despite having to give myself twice daily shots for the duration of the pregnancy. I suppose some of this stems from a lifetime of insecurity about my body: pregnancy pulls me out of all that, giving me and my physical body a clear purpose, at once powerful and deeply creative.
Now, as my youngest approaches two, my husband and I have begun grappling with that weighted question: are we done? To be fair, I grapple with this more than my husband, who grew up in a family of three and thinks that our three are just about perfect.
I’m not so sure. Continue reading
If the Whitney young adult speculative category had a strong showing from male writers and male point of view characters, then the young adult general swings the pendulum the other direction. Of the five books, all are written by women, and all feature exclusively female point of view characters. Some of this might have to do with genre: four of the five are young adult contemporary novels (though Jennifer Shaw Wolf’s Dead Girls Don’t Lie might also be classified as YA suspense)–and from my vantage point, this is a genre dominated by women authors and female point of view characters, largely because romance is often a central feature in the plot. ( Granted, there are exceptions: John Green and David Levithan spring to mind. I can’t think of any LDS male authors writing young adult contemporary–if you know of any, I’d love to hear them in the comments.)
Julie Berry’s All the Truth that’s in Me was the exception to the general trend for this year’s YA finalists: this is a historical novel (the setting is vaguely revolutionary war-era) with a terse but lyrical style. This was also the darkest in terms of theme and content. Four of the five finalists were published with national presses; one (Chasing June) was independently published. Continue reading
As a student of rhetoric and an aspiring writer, I worry about words. I worry about the way they sound or don’t sound. I worry about nuance and assonance and consonance and rhythm. But mostly, I worry about the meanings (intentional or not) that we send with our words.
Currently, I’m serving as the first counselor in my ward Young Women’s organization. Which means, not surprisingly, that I spend a lot of time thinking about the messages that get sent to our youth, both inside and outside of the church.
One of the messages we send to our youth concerns their exceptionalism–the idea that they are, to borrow Peter’s words, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.” This message isn’t particularly new: I heard it 20 years ago. And there’s nothing implicitly wrong with the message–as a church, we believe that the current generation(s) were held back in the pre-existence to come to earth today.
What concerns me, however, is how this (and similar messages) may get taken up and misinterpreted. One of the difficulties with chosenness is that it only happens in opposition–one is only chosen if another is not. Exceptionalism works the same way. To be exceptional, one has to be an exception. One has to be better than others. (The Free Dictionary defines it as “well above average; extraordinary.”)
Don’t get me wrong. I love the youth I work with. They are smart, strong, vibrant young women full of integrity and faith. But exceptional? I find myself increasingly resisting that concept. The moral standards our youth (and adults) hold themselves to are exceptional. But I’m not sure it’s healthy to extrapolate from this that we ourselves are exceptional. I think it sets a dangerous precedence and expectation. Continue reading
The five Whitney finalists in the YA (young adult) speculative category are all terrific stories–not surprising given that they represent the top five of one of the largest categories of the Whitneys, and all five books are published with national publishers. Two of the books–J. R. Johansson’s Insomnia and Kasie West’s Pivot Point–represent strong debuts by new authors to watch.
1. The first of the nominees is C. J. Hill’s Friends and Traitors, the second in her Slayers series. (The first book in her series was also a finalist last year). I’m a long-time fan of Janette Rallison (the real person behind Hill’s pseudonym), and while her Slayers books are very different from her (very funny) YA novels, there’s still a lot of humor and relationship drama in these books. Though this book is the second in a series, it doesn’t seem to suffer from the second book syndrome–partly, I think, because the characters still have some compelling arcs.
The Slayers books are based on the premise that dragons exist–and that exposure to an unhatched dragon egg can awaken “Slayer” DNA in the descendents of Slayers. Tori, the privileged daughter of a senator, is the main character in the series, but she’s joined by some pretty compelling secondary characters, including Jesse, the boy she’s fallen for, and Dirk, Jesse’s best friend. (Dirk even gets his own point-of-view chapters in this second book). In Friends and Traitors, Tori is just beginning to come into her own as a Slayer when she has to put all her training aside to return home from “summer camp” for the school year and a high-profile life as a senator’s daughter. Because of the danger of associating outside of camp, Jesse breaks things off with her. And while Tori is heartbroken, she finds some solace in her friendship with Dirk, who isn’t afraid to break a few rules to see Tori outside of camp. Of course, that might be because Dirk is struggling with a few dangerous secrets of his own.
I have to say that I really loved the interplay between Tori and Dirk. While I don’t agree with all of Dirk’s choices, I found his position to be a complicated and compelling one. I didn’t love Tori’s relationship with Jesse as much–he winds up coming across as a bit of a prig. Still, it’s hard not to love a book that has the heroine zooming across the sky in a Wonder Woman costume (and fully aware of the ironic humor in her appearance). And the dragons are beautiful and dangerous and heartbreaking all at once.
2. J.R. Johansson’s Insomnia
The great thing about the Whitney’s is that I end up reading (and liking) books I might not otherwise pick up. I’m not a big fan of horror–or even thrillers (just ask my husband about pre-screening every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). But I enjoyed this one. The story line is quite original: Parker is a Watcher, which means he’s forced to inhabit the dreams of the last person he makes eye contact with each day. Continue reading