Whitney award winners will be announced tonight! A month ago, we (Shelah, Mara, and Emily M.) listed a few of our Whitney favorites. You can read that post in its entirety here, but this is a quick summary of our favorites from it:
For Best Novel: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me, by Kristen Chandler
Best Novel by a New Author: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me
YA General: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me; also Glimpse, by Carol Lynch Williams
Speculative Fiction: The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson
Mystery: Murder by Design, Betsey Brannon Green
Romance: Cross My Heart by Julie Wright
We had not yet chosen our favorites in General, Historical, or Youth Speculative. So, here they are:
General: The Segullah vote went to Lucky Change; it was a tough call, essentially a toss-up between Lucky Change, by Susan Law Corpany, and Band of Sisters, by Annette Lyon. Lucky Change is the story of a working-class woman who wins the lottery and changes the hearts of her snooty ward. At first I wondered if the lottery-winning protagonist was just a little too good, too kind, too forgiving. But as the book progressed I also came to believe in her great-spirited heart. Band of Sisters tells about the friendship of five women whose husbands are deployed to Afghanistan, and the moral/emotional support they give each other. I especially liked the way Lyon portrays the boundaries each woman had towards being real, really showing their lives and problems, and the way the women grew closer through gradually sharing more of themselves with each other.
I should also mention that all of us were disappointed that Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist was not a finalist in the General Fiction category. In the comments of this thread, Josi Kilpack, Whitney President, discusses the process of choosing finalists and possible reasons why the Lonely Polygamist was not ultimately selected. It’s a great conversation and I appreciate the openness of the Whitney leadership in explaining how things were.
Historical: The Sheen on the Silk, by Anne Perry. Perry’s book, set in Byzantium, combines a great mystery, romance, and vivid historical detail to great effect. Anna Zarides pretends to be a eunuch doctor and treats high-level religious and government officials in order to clear her brother of murder charges. Perry does a fantastic job of allowing the reader to enter the Byzantine world while still keeping the story tightly paced.
Youth Speculative: Matched, by Allyson Condie. In Matched, Cassia lives in a perfect society, where her spouse and job and life are planned by a perfect government. From Shelah’s review on her blog:
…Ally Condie’s Matched is the most highly-anticipated, most hyped YA novel of the year… Having said that, does the book live up to the hype?
The story is a dystopian romance in which seventeen-year-old Cassia is matched with Xander, the boy next door, but before their first date, she finds out that she’s actually also matched with Ky. Xander represents safety and status quo. Ky represents taking chances. Cassia loves them both, and ultimately has to choose what kind of life she’d rather live. I’d say that Matched does what it sets out to do, and does it well.
Emily M.: This is the third year I’ve read all the Whitney finalists and voted for the winners. Maybe it’s a factor of being more aware of what’s going on in LDS publishing than before, but what I missed this year was a surprise, something I had never heard of before and then fell in love with. In 2008 it was The Reckoning, Waiting for the Light to Change, and Keeping Keller. (I would say Bound on Earth, but I had already heard of it.) In 2009 it was In the Company of Angels, Counting the Cost, Gravity vs. the Girl, and No Going Back. And this year, I missed those smaller-press or independently published gems.
In the time I’ve read the Whitney finalists, for me the locally published books have improved a lot. This is especially noticeable if you track individual authors, as I do. There are a couple of authors whose finalist books from 2010 are dramatically, delightfully better than their 2008 finalist books. This is a great thing: to me it shows that editors and authors are working to improve the writing and storytelling. This is not to say that there were not books I disliked, but overall I think the quality is improving. The exception to this for the 2010 finalists has also happened in past years: more well-known authors seem to get a pass as far as writing and story quality goes. It seems that if the publisher believes it will sell well no matter what, it’s not edited as heavily. Perhaps that is cynical of me, but that has been my observation.
The Mystery category was my favorite as far as locally published books go. My top three favorites (Cold as Ice, A Time to Die, and Murder by Design) were all great reads, and it wouldn’t surprise or disappoint me to see any of them win.
Finally, it tickles me to have categories dominated by nationally published books. Not because I want to edge out the locally published authors, but because I’m proud of what LDS writers have also accomplished on the national scene. Speculative, Youth Speculative, and Youth General, all dominated by nationally published books. That’s impressive to me, and it makes me happy that we are blessed with talented writers.
Shelah: I feel a little bit like an interloper in this discussion, because I this year I only read 21 of the 35 books. So I can’t contribute to the discussion of the historical novels, the speculative fiction, or the YA speculative fiction. This year the biggest surprise, and perhaps the biggest disappointment, was that the general category didn’t have stronger offerings. I know I’m biased, but I tend to think of contemporary realistic fiction as the heart and soul of fiction, and the general category is essentially contemporary realistic fiction. It’s the category I look forward to reading– I save these books until the end as a reward to myself. In last year’s competition, three of the general fiction finalists, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, No Going Back, and Gravity vs. the Girl, were all strong contenders– all books with interesting themes, well-developed characters, and good writing. I felt that each book challenged me in some way as a reader. This year, all five of the books were problematic in one way or another, and a couple of them were downright dreadful. I know, I sound like a jerk, but Emily, Mara and I want you to be able to see that we’re giving you our unvarnished opinions.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of some of the genre categories I read. This year the mysteries were great, and Whitney president Josi Kilpack published several more good mysteries in 2010 that were exempt from the competition. The YA category has been so strong in past years that this year the Academy decided to split it into two separate categories, and nine of the ten books were targeted to a national market. I never thought I’d say it, but I’ve even found a soft spot in my heart for the romances.
Good luck to the finalists–I’m sure they will post the winners here. You can go here to find a list of 2011 fiction from LDS authors and get a head start on reading and nominating books for next year’s Whitney Awards.