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2018 Whitney Awards Finalists: General Fiction

By Jessie Christensen

The Whitney Awards evolve every year depending on trends in Mormon publishing; this year, the general fiction and historical fiction categories were combined since apparently neither had enough nominees to be a strong category on their own. Although this results in a category with a wide range of books—from Biblical fiction to a contemporary religious fable to a sober novel about capital punishment—all five authors represented are Whitney Awards veterans (Jessica Pack is a pen name for Josi Kilpack). I love them all for different reasons, and think that anyone looking for a good book should be able to find one in this year’s General category.

This post is part of a series on the 2019 Whitney Awards

The Unlikely Master Genius by Carla Kelly

Sailing Master Durable (Able) Six has an unusual name and an unusual mind, but he still can’t get far in Regency England due to his illegitimate background. Thankfully he has his new bride Meridee and a job as a teacher at the newly established St. Brendan the Navigator School, which takes workhouse orphans like he once was and trains them for the Royal Navy. As he adjusts to life on land with new responsibilities, Able learns that anyone can build a loving community.

I’ve loved every book I’ve read by Carla Kelly; she’s not only a skilled writer, she also meticulously research her settings in a way that adds depth to the story. I also love how she creates supporting characters that are just as fleshed out as the protagonists, making reading one of her books like joining a happy little family for a time. I was sad when the book ended and I had to say goodbye to my new friends, but thankfully this is apparently the first book in a series.


Anna the Prophetess by Heather B. Moore

Moore fleshes out the story of Anna from the New Testament by creating a story in which Anna’s great niece Julia has been sent to live with her after she refused to marry the man her parents arranged for her. However, she learns about faith and hope from Anna as her elderly aunt recounts the story of her courtship and marriage, and shares her testimony of the coming Messiah.

Moore’s scripture books have always been some of my favorite Whitney finalists to read. She combines strong writing with meticulous research and love for her characters. This book was not as strong as some of the other ones by her that I’ve read, simply because Anna is the kind of character who is practically flawless right from the start and doesn’t change very much. Nevertheless, I still liked reading the book and felt uplifted by the example of Anna. This book made me think a lot about my life choices and what legacy I am leaving for my family.

As Wide as the Sky by Jessica Pack

Amanda Mallorie has spent the last four years dealing with the aftermath of her son’s terrible crime, but now that he has died she has to move on. How can she learn to trust others again and build a new life?

This book requires both a willing suspension of disbelief, and a high dose of empathy from the reader. For the most part, it succeeds in both. At times I found the shifting between different points of view to be distracting–there were a few sections that could have been cut out and the book would have been just fine. It was, however, a powerfully written book and I’m still thinking about it a month later.


One Candle by Gale Sears

In 1849, Lorenzo Snow and a few others came to Italy to preach the gospel in a mountainous northern region known as the Piedmont. They had particular success among a group of religious dissenters known as the Waldenese, but their missionary efforts were not easy.

The descriptions in this book made want to plan a trip to Northern Italy next week–the setting and people are a definite strength. I had a little trouble following the plot simply because the chapters alternate between so many different characters and there wasn’t a strong narrative arc. Nevertheless, I was left admiring the example of the Waldensian saints and wanting to know more about other less-known stories from Church history.


The Other Side of the Bridge by Camron Wright

After Dave Riley’s life is upended by tragedy, he feels that the only way to cope will be to cross the country in time to ride his motorcycle across the Golden Gate Bridge on the Fourth of July. Meanwhile, historian Katie Connolly is working to prepare a history of the bridge, and finds a forgotten journal among her father’s papers that provides new insight into her life and the lives of those who built the bridge. When their paths cross, neither will be the same.

I have long had a goal of someday riding a bicycle across the Golden Gate bridge, but never planned a cross-country journey to get there. I have no idea, however, if that will change my life, but after reading this book I wonder if it will. This book is probably best read as a fable, since most of the characters are fairly one-dimensional and the plot is predictable, but if you are looking for something that will uplift you as well as make you think, this is the story for you.

About Jessie Christensen

Jessie served a mission in Spain and graduated from BYU with bachelor's degrees in Spanish Translation and English, as well as a master's in Spanish Literature. She currently works full-time at a university library and nurtures her three children, one cat, and a fluctuating number of fish. She relaxes by reading, baking, canning fruit, and putting together jigsaw puzzles.

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