5 Must Reads from the 2017 CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction Nominees

One hundred and thirty books were nominated for the 2017 YA Speculative Fiction Award. 130! That’s a lot of books for seven judges to read in three months! As one of those judges, I’m overwhelmed by the volume but even more overwhelmed by the talent!

I still have many books to read and can only mention some I love, not give away clues about which will make the short list. But I believe books make wonderful holiday gifts. For just $50 I can come home with 6-7 presents that will provide hours of enjoyment for family members! Therefore I wanted to shine an early spotlight on a handful of stellar books. So get out your holiday shopping list…you might find some titles here that match up nicely with your loved ones!

They both Dies at the End, CYBILS, YA books, speculative fiction, book reviewThey Both Die At the End  by Adam Silvera – Imagine you receive a call telling you you’ll die within the next 24 hours. A call that encourages you to live your last day to the fullest. How would you spend that day?

Two teen boys get this call. They’re strangers but both looking for someone to spend their last day with and meet through the Last Friend app. Their last day is epic, moving, and reminds us of what a gift life is. I loved the premise, the teens’ determination to have one last great adventure, and the boys’ touching relationship.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

Strange the Dreamer, CYBILS, YA books, speculative fiction, book reviewStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – If you’ve read Laini’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series (and if you haven’t, you should), this is more of her special brand of awesome. It’s an epic story with mortals and monsters, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. The settings range from a re-imagined Library of Alexandria to a barren desert to a palace floating in the sky. Laslo Strange is has one chance to travel to the lost city of Weep and find out why it was cut off from the rest of civilization 200 years ago. And to learn about the mysterious secret its people now need help solving. I loved the sweeping world-building, the three-dimensional characters, the gorgeous writing and the charged action scenes.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

Scythe, CYBILS, YA books, speculative fiction, book reviewScythe by Neal Shusterman – Death has been conquered. If someone jumps from a balcony 10 stories high, they can be revived. But to manage the population, men and woman are reaped, and someone needs to do that job. Two teens are chosen as apprentices to master this revered yet heart-wrenching task. Scythe is the story of their experience as they train for their new role, and the evil they discover in the heart of the Scythedom. My 15-year-old son pulled the book I was reading from my hands and told me to read this instead, and he was right. I’d recommend it for all lovers of science fiction action, including reluctant readers. I loved the concept, the fast-paced action and the portrayal of teens facing this impossible job. In January I wrote a full review of Scythe.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

The Edge of Everything, CYBILS, YA books, speculative fictionThe Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles – The book’s gripping start has Zoe searching for her ADHD younger brother who has run off in the middle of a blizzard. The action and tension only rise from there. No sooner does Zoe find her brother and shelter from the frigid temperatures when they’re attacked by the man who murdered their aged neighbors. They’re saved by a stranger with mysterious powers, the bounty hunter sent to capture the murderer. At Zoe’s request, bounty hunter shows the attacker mercy and lets him go. This sets off a chain of events that drive the rest of the story. The bounty hunter, who Zoe calls X, and Zoe are drawn to each other, but his masters in The Lowlands, a version of Hell, want the soul X was sent to reap. They also want X back in his desolate cell. I loved Edge of Everything for its non-stop action and compelling set of characters. In January I wrote a full review of Edge of Everything.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

Nyxia, CYBILS, YA speculative fiction, YA booksNyxia by Scott Reintgen – Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Emmett’s been recruited for a spot on a star ship heading to the far side of the galaxy to mine Nyxia, a rare and priceless substance, for the Babel corporation. Emmett finds out once aboard that there aren’t spots on the team for all recruits. A competition will determine who will be the lucrative contracts. Babel Corporation is also keeping secrets. Emmett is forced to ask himself what he’s willing to risk for a lifetime of fortune. In July I wrote a full review of Nyxia.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

But wait there’s more! There are so many awesome YA spec fic CYBILS nominees that I couldn’t fit them all in one post. Keep your eye on TheWingedPen.com for another five (or more!) book recommendations in a week or two!

For a broader range of book recommendations across genres and middle grade as well as young adult, see Halli Gomez’s post Holiday Gift Ideas – The Winged Pen’s Favorite Books!

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She reviews young adult books, is a judge for the CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction book award and fangirls all things bookish. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, or on her website, writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

Behind the Scenes: My Experience as a Cybils Judge

This winter, I was able to serve as a judge for the Cybils, an award for children’s and young adult authors and illustrators. Established by bloggers, the Cybils recognize work that combines literary merit with popular appeal.

I’d been following the Cybils for a few years, and knew that it was a well-respected award. I’m a book blogger, too, at Kid Book List, and when I saw the call for judges, I thought I’d give it a try. I hoped it would be a good opportunity to discover some great books and meet new people in the kid lit community.

It was both of those in spades. I was chosen to be a second-round judge in the Poetry category. Lucky me! I am a big fan of novels in verse and kid poetry anthologies.

Anyone can nominate books for consideration in any of the categories; the only requirements are that they have been published in the United States or Canada in the year under consideration. Each Cybils category has first round readers who go through all of the nominated books. They narrow the nominations to a group of five to seven finalists for the second-round readers, who then choose a winner.

That’s where the fun began for me. We had a fantastic and incredibly diverse set of finalists in the Poetry category, which made our task both exciting and difficult. Our finalists were:

BOOKED by Newbery Award winner Kwame Alexander, a middle grade novel in verse about a soccer-obsessed boy whose parents are separating;

FRESH DELICIOUS, written by Irene Latham and illustrated by Mique Moriuchi, an upbeat and colorful poetry anthology for the preschool and early elementary set, celebrating the joys of the farmer’s market;

GARVEY’S CHOICE by Nikki Grimes, a spare and lovely middle grade novel in verse told from the perspective of an overweight boy who struggles to win his athletic father’s approval;

GUESS WHO, HAIKU, written by Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Bob Shea, an adorable picture book in poem form centered on a barnyard;

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan, a middle grade novel in verse told from a remarkable eighteen perspectives and in an array of poetic forms, about the last year of a school that will be torn down;

TO STAY ALIVE: MARY ANN GRAVES AND THE TRAGIC STORY OF THE DONNER PARTY by Skila Brown, a young adult historical in gorgeous and unflinching verse;

WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: POEMS FOR ALL SEASONS, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Julie Morstad, a beautiful anthology for early elementary readers that celebrates the garden through the seasons.

Once the finalists were in, we got to work. First we gathered the books from the library (or our bookshelves!), and a few that we couldn’t get in time were sent from the publisher. Our reading load was lighter than the first round’s, and I was able to get it done in the time we needed without too much trouble.

The great sweep of books in this category made it challenging to compare them, but after some email discussion, we decided that Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY was “the most appealing in its diversity, its capturing of the emotional lives of children on the brink of adolescence, and its poetic acrobatics.” See here for our write-up about why we chose it, and to read about the winners in all of the categories.

You can find out more about the Cybils here. If you’re interested in nominating a book, the deadline is generally in October. And if you want to apply to be a judge, the application is due in September. Follow the Cybils account on Twitter to make sure not to miss any announcements.

I’m so glad I was able to participate in the Cybils process. I discovered some fantastic books, analyzed what makes for a successful book of poetry for children, and met other dedicated readers of poetry and novels in verse.

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who spends her lunch hours reading poetry. She blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. You can also find her on her websiteTwitter, and Instagram