Here at Segullah, we love the Whitney Awards. We love reading the books, learning about the authors, attending the Awards banquet, and, most importantly, engaging in spirited debates about the merits and detriments of each work. This year, Emily Milner headed up our group of readers, which also included Rosalyn Eves, Jessie Christensen, Sandra Jergensen, Heather Bergevin, and me. The awards will be handed out at the annual banquet, held this Saturday night in Layton, Utah. But we wanted to give you a sneak peek into our thoughts about the forty books we read.
First of all, we are delighted to see the quality of LDS fiction improving in the years we’ve been reading for the contest. Nearly all of the young adult novels are now published by national publishers, and those published by regional presses are showing more maturity in the writing, both in subject matter and style. There are five books nominated in each of eight categories. Readers can read a single category, all of the “adult” novels, or all of the youth fiction. Readers who read all 25 adult books can vote for Novel of the Year, and those who read all 15 youth books can vote for Best Novel in Youth Fiction. Any finalist that is an author’s first novel is eligible for Best Novel by a New Author
General: The competition this year came down to two strong works: Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster, which is very readable and moving with great characterization, and Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters of the Angel of Death, the most ambitious, literary and lyrical of the novels in the entire competition. Both stories are about married couples, separated too soon by death. All of our readers loved both novels, and we were evenly divided over which novel should claim the top spot. We were also very happy to see a stronger General category this year than in years past.
Historical: Both H.B. Moore’s Esther the Queen, the novelization of the story of Esther from the Old Testament, and Carla Kelly’s Safe Passage, about an estranged couple brought back together during their escape from the Mormon colonies in Mexico, are great novels– well written with great characters and compelling plots.
Romance: It’s rare that everyone in our group of readers agrees on a single novel to nab our top vote, but this year, we were unanimous in our adoration of Melanie Jacobson’s Second Chances, with the story of a producer who falls for the star of the Mormon Bachelor, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. The story is witty and wise, and made us all wish we were single again and could date Jacobson’s bachelor.
Mystery/Suspense: While we were unanimous in our vote in the romance category, we were hopelessly divided in the Mystery/Suspense category. Some of us really enjoyed Josi Kilpack’s Rocky Road, especially the longtime readers who have seen the evolution of Sadie Hoffmiller’s character over the course of the ten (now eleven) novels in her culinary mystery series. Other readers fought hard for Heather B. Moore’s Finding Sheba, enjoying the complexity of the plot about uncovering the Queen of Sheba’s tomb. We also want to give a shout out to Traci Hunter Abramson, whose Deep Cover, about a CIA agent who falls for an FBI agent in her ward, demonstrates a lot of her growth as a writer and plays with the complexities of writing for a home audience.
Speculative: Jeffrey S. Savage’s Dark Memories was creepily reminiscent of a Stephen King novel, where the world is just a half-step away from the one in which we’re living. The story of revenge, more than thirty years after the fact, for the death of a young boy in a mine, kept us turning pages. Many of us also enjoyed CJ Hill’s Echo in Time, the story of two sets of twins working with time travel, set four centuries in the future.
Young Adult- Speculative: We all loved Kasie West’sPivot Point. Addie is able to see her two separate futures in alternating chapters in this book, and in the end she faces a difficult decision. Addie and her fellow characters in both the paranormal and normal worlds made the story come alive. We also enjoyed CJ Hill’s Friends and Traitors: Slayers 2, a book about dragon fighters, and a great example of how to make a sequel interesting and relevant for new readers.
Young Adult- General: Julie Berry’s All The Truth That’s in Me wowed. The writing was beautiful, the historical setting was realistic, and the choices Judith faced were heartbreakingly real. By contrast, we also though that Lindsey Leavitt’s Going Vintage was delightfully fun, and she did a nice job of handling serious subjects with a light touch.
Middle Grade: Liesl Shurtliff’s RUMP was a totally delightful retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story in which we learn to sympathize with the little guy and no longer make the mistake of siding entirely with that poor miller’s daughter. We also enjoyed The Runaway King, Jennifer A. Nielsen’s sequel to The False Prince, which won big last year.
Best Novel by a New Author: RUMP
Best Novel of the Year: Love Letters of the Angel of Death
Best Novel in Youth Fiction: All the Truth That’s in Me
When the Whitney Awards were established in 2007, it was largely accomplished through the hard work and love of Robison Wells and is brother Dan. Both brothers have gone on to win Whitney Awards, and their books are weird in all the best ways. Rob has worked tirelessly to build the field of Mormon letters, and now we have an opportunity to help him as he suffers from mental illness and crippling debt. Check out Altered Perceptions to find out how, and consider ordering the anthology whose proceeds will benefit him. It looks fantastic!