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:

Best Novel:
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.

Best Romance:

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.

Best Mystery/Suspense:

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.

Best Historical:

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!

20 Comments

  1. Melissa

    April 13, 2009

    This was fun to read–thanks! I will probably read some of these now, which is good because I don’t usually read LDS lit. Would you recommend the Mistborn trilogy for 9-11 yr. old boys? Mine are always looking for something to read.

  2. Emily M.

    April 13, 2009

    Melissa, no, Mistborn is very violent. It’s gory in places, actually; I wouldn’t recommend it for that age at all. It’s a grown up book.

    But I would thoroughly recommend The 13th Reality, Farworld, Fablehaven 3, and Alcatraz and the Scrivener’s Bones, the other finalists in the youth fiction category. They are great reads, and have good boy protagonists. I think my son has reread Farworld like three times now.

    The youth fiction category was the hardest for me to judge; ultimately I went with the book I liked best myself, but not necessarily the one my son (a target reader) might have preferred. Tough call.

  3. Sue

    April 13, 2009

    I”m glad you posted these because I never read LDS fiction, but it sounds like the caliber of them has improved since I last checked any of these books out, which was years ago.

    I’ll try reading a couple now.

    Thanks!

  4. Emily M.

    April 13, 2009

    Thanks, Sue :-).

    A note about the Whitneys: what all these books have in common is that their authors are LDS. But not every finalist mentions the Church or has LDS protagonists. So I don’t know that I would call _
    Seeking Persephone
    _ (another Romance finalist I enjoyed) an example of LDS fiction, necessarily, since it doesn’t have LDS characters at all. But it’s fiction by an LDS author.

    So that begs the question of how to define LDS fiction… LDS Publisher has hosted some great discussions about how to define LDS fiction, beginning here. The Whitney Awards have chosen to include fiction written by LDS authors, whether or not it’s what we would typically think of as “LDS fiction.”

  5. Michelle L.

    April 13, 2009

    Thanks for your great reviews Emily– you’ve given me a list of books that I’d now like to read.

  6. Peyton

    April 13, 2009

    Melissa–Brandon Sanderson does have a tween/YA series that he’s working on, the Alcatraz Smedry books. Two fo the seven(?) have been released so far: “Alcatraz v. the Evil Librarians” and “Alcatraz v. the Scrivner’s Bones.” Very fun, clever books. And very tongue-in-cheek and snarky, for the adults that decide to read them. My husband and I love them.

  7. Justine

    April 13, 2009

    I’m with Peyton, my kids really like the Alcatraz series. And thanks for the recommendations, Emily! When is the event?

  8. Emily M.

    April 13, 2009

    Justine, the awards are April 25th. My brother and sister-in-law are singing in a big concert that night, so I will have to miss it. But I am excited to find out who wins–this is the first awards event where I’ve been familiar with all the finalists, so I’m very interested to see the results.

  9. Annette

    April 13, 2009

    Emily, Thanks for the shout-out! 🙂

    For me, voting this year was really hard–I had a tough time in several categories. Then again, I’d much prefer that problem than having lots of bad books to choose from.

    Sounds like we have very similar tastes!

  10. Josi

    April 13, 2009

    Great picks–Emily. And we are so excited to have you on the academy–I can’t wait for the Gala! Bummer you won’t make it. You’ll be missed. And, yes, they will be blogging and twittering the Whitney’s this year. http://www.ldswomensbookreview.com will also be making a podcast that will be available a few days later.

    As for Mistborn–My 14 year old (girl) has been reading the series since she was 11. While it certainly isn’t for every child, she is an avid and mature reader and I would choose it over many national YA books on the market for it’s good vs. evil morality.

  11. Stephanie Black

    April 14, 2009

    Emily, thank you so much for your comments about Fool Me Twice. I’m honored to be included on your list!

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Whitneys.

  12. Angela

    April 14, 2009

    Emily, thanks for the kind words. I’m excited to read a number of your recommendations. I’m also excited to meet many of these writers at the awards banquet. I wish you could be there!

  13. Emily M.

    April 14, 2009

    Annette, very true–having a hard time choosing is a good problem to have.

    Josi, you are kind :-). And thank you too for helping me with the books (if you have not yet received Spare Change back, let me know, because the postal system has gone awry.)

    Stephanie, thanks! And good luck!

    Angela, I wish I could be there too. And I wish you luck as well. It should be a great event!

  14. Tanya Parker Mills

    April 15, 2009

    Emily,

    Thanks so much for the mention and I’m sorry I won’t be able to see you there. For readers who might be interested, since “The Reckoning” was self-published, you probably won’t find it at your library or bookstore. But it’s on Amazon.

    Good luck to all the finalists!

  15. Shannon Guymon

    April 16, 2009

    Hi Emily,
    I just discovered this website today, and I’m so glad! Thanks for thinking Taking Chances is good enough to win. I was surprised to even be nominated. I have to say I LOVE your thoughts on writing. Brilliant. Hope to meet you at the Whitney Awards Ceremony.

  16. Emily M.

    April 16, 2009

    Thanks for stopping by, Tanya and Shannon–best of luck to both of you. I wish I could be at the awards ceremony!

  17. Janssen

    April 17, 2009

    Somehow, despite being an avid reader and book blogger, I hadn’t even heard of this award. Glad to see what you think may win!

  18. Heather Moore

    April 17, 2009

    I’m going to have to keep my predictions secret for now 🙂 But I was awed by Mistborn as well. I spent 6 weeks reading ALL of the finalists. It was awesome. To answer your question about Keeping Keller not being in the historical fiction category, technically in the book industry, historical fiction is considered WWII time period or earlier. Weird, I know. You “might” be able to figure out my predictions by my ratings on GoodReads. lol. Good luck to everyone!

  19. Emily M.

    April 18, 2009

    Janssen, thanks for stopping by :-). I’d love it if more book bloggers reviewed these books too; I like seeing what other people think.

    Heather, thanks for the clarification. Good to know it’s industry standard… I think it’s pretty weird, though, to exclude something set just ten years after WWII, when it has to use all the same techniques and research as standard historical fiction does. How many more years will pass, I wonder, before they decide that something set in the fifties or sixties can count as historical fiction, too?

    I need to get on GoodReads…

    Good luck to you and everyone!

  20. michelle budge

    April 23, 2009

    thanks for this great list!

    I just read a fabulous new book by an LDS author: Gravity vs. the Girl by Riley Noehren and HIGHLY recommend it. would love to hear what you think….!

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