In the spirit of all those Oscar articles right before the big night, I’d like to offer a few Whitney Award predictions. I had a great time being on the Whitney Academy this year. I have read all the finalists, and I was tickled to discover some fabulous writing that I would not have looked at before. I wish that I could attend the Whitney Awards Banquet, which will be held April 25th, but I have an unavoidable scheduling conflict. Sigh. I hope they do liveblogging again this year so I can read about it later.
Before I tell you my predictions, a bit of perspective on judging LDS fiction, and a disclaimer. About a year ago, Jeff Savage wrote a blog on LDS Publisher which discussed, among other things, that it’s important to compare LDS genre fiction with other genre fiction: i.e., compare mysteries to other mysteries, romance novels to other romance novels. Don’t compare a romance novel to literary fiction, since that’s not a fair basis for comparison.
As I read these books, that’s what I tried to do. While I spend most of my discretionary reading time on YA novels, I’ve also read my share of mysteries, romances, and historical fiction novels. So when I recommend a book as a good read, I’m going to be comparing it against others published nationally in its genre, genres I’m relatively familiar with. And I think that’s a fair basis for comparison. If you’d like to read more ideas about LDS fiction, generated by my Whitney finalist reading, you can visit my blog, where I’ve discussed my reaction to the Whitney finalists in greater depth.
And my disclaimer: Angela Hallstrom, besides being a brilliant writer, is a good friend. But I would love her book even if I’d never met her. Also, voting on the Whitneys has already occurred, so this post will not influence them (not that it would anyway; I’m just saying that the voting is a done deal, and this is speculation/opinion on my part). And kudos to all who made it to the Whitney finals–I wish I had space to highlight more of my favorites.
So, with that preamble, here are my picks. You can read the entire list of finalists here:
Bound on Earth, by Angela Hallstrom. It’s beautifully written, layered characters, a real but also hopeful depiction of LDS life. And here I have to state that for me, a novel that does Mormonism well is always going to trump in this category, because that’s the Holy Grail of LDS fiction.
Best Novel by a New Author
Now, because of Whitney rules, Angela, though nominated in three categories, can only win once. Therefore she cannot win the next category, Best Novel by a New Author. Instead, I predict (and hope) that this category will be won by Annette Haws, for Waiting for the Light to Change. This is a fabulous novel, folks. It’s hands down my favorite Whitney discovery. I would not have picked it up based on its cover, but I was blown away by it. It’s the story of the fall and redemption of a high school debate teacher in Northern Utah. Highly recommended.
Taking Chances, by Shannon Guymon. This was a great little romance, but she went deeper and added a layer of real pain to the female protagonist’s character, who must confront and forgive her grandmother. I enjoyed it very much.
Fool Me Twice, by Stephanie Black. What I loved most about this was the protagonist’s personal growth, which happens as she deals with an intricate plot. It had the best character arcs of any book in its category, which is a huge plus for me. The treatment of Mormonism was positive without being overly preachy. A great book.
Best Youth Fiction:
I felt like this was the category with the tightest field; any one of them could win and I would say “yes, I can see that.” But for sheer beauty of writing, plus great characters and a compelling reinvention of a fairy tale, I must go with Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George.
Best Speculative Fiction:
Hero of Ages. Wow. Just, wow. It’s an incredible work. Brandon Sanderson‘s entire Mistborn trilogy kept me reading and neglecting my laundry. The final battle is the coolest and also most poignant battle I’ve ever read. And I tell you that as someone who usually skims battle scenes. I loved the religious search for truth, and I loved the way this book brought together so many themes and threads from the others. Amazing writing.
Keeping Keller, by Tracy Winegar. You may notice that Keeping Keller is not nominated in this category. Whitney powers that be, why on earth not? It takes place in a distinct, well-researched time period in the past, not too distant from Traitor‘s time frame. It’s the story of a couple seeking to care for their misdiagnosed autistic son, and each other, in the face of prejudice and lack of information. The voice is distinctly fifties, and very well done, I might add. And I think it deserves to be nominated in this category, if not win outright.
Okay, picking from finalists, I’m going to go with Isabelle Webb, Legend of the Jewel, by N.C. Allen. I liked Isabelle, I liked the history of British India, the mystery surprised me. It was a fun read.
Best General Fiction:
Bound on Earth, you may recall, cannot win again. And neither can Waiting for the Light to Change, if all goes as I believe it should. That forces me to choose between Keeping Keller, by Tracy Winegar and The Reckoning, by Tanya Parker Mills. The Reckoning is about an American journalist imprisoned in Iraq. It’s intense and moving. I enjoyed both books, and both of them could have been historical fiction finalists, IMO. I don’t know which to go with, so I’m going to call it a draw for the purposes of this blog.
So, that’s my take on the Whitneys–but I’d like to hear your picks too. If you’ve read the books, you can post (anonymously if you’d like) and tell me whether you agree or disagree with my preferences, and which books you’d choose instead. And if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and pick up one of these from the library. Or even the bookstore…
Edit to add: P.S. I want to give a shoutout to Annette Lyon–without her help I never would have been able to find and finish all the books. Thank you, Annette!