Here’s what I’ve read of the Cybils YA Speculative Fiction finalists so far. All of them are very good – I’m always so glad for the chance to have some of the best books chosen for me. I’m still waiting for the audiobook of The Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao. And I confess, sadly but without shame, that I had checked out the remaining two finalists, Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis and The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros, when a family emergency struck and they both suddenly seemed too grim for me to deal with.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. Delacorte, 2021. ISBN 978-1984848697. Listened to audiobook on Libby.
16-year-old Deka is horrified when she bleeds gold instead of proper red at the coming-of-age purity ceremony in her village. Rejected by both a would-be suitor and her father, she is eventually recruited by an unnamed woman to join with other alaki girls in training to fight the monsters attacking the empire. The beautiful cover had led me to expect a more stately story, but this is a story of war where Deka must figure out what’s going on and who to trust on her own. There’s some romance – lower key than is usual in teen fantasies – with stronger female friendships and a definite emphasis on men’s distrust of women’s power. Sadly, I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, but I could definitely see why it’s as popular as it is, and I’d happily give it to my son, who loves military strategy speculative fiction.
Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore. Read by Jennifer Jill Araya. Recorded Books, 2021. ASIN B091HYSDWV
Ciela is trying as hard as she can to forget what happened to her at the party that was supposed to kick off the school year, forget the boy she could hear being assaulted at the same time. But all around her, things keep turning to mirror glass, and she finds herself drawn to the boy, Lock, when he shows up in her classes. Meanwhile, she’s trying to navigate her work at her family’s pastelería, having her best friend off at college, and teasing at school by people who don’t understand what being bisexual means. Ciela is an unreliable narrator, as we slowly learn that she has not told herself the truth about what happened that night in order to protect herself from the pain. The tiny magics of mirrors and the secret forest that Lock is building help to shelter the reader from this pain, at least a little bit, helped also by the delicious baked goods from the pastelería. This is beautiful, deeply real and personal.
Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson. Margaret K. McElderry Books. 2021. ISBN 9781534477117 Read from library copy.
Artemisia is a novice in the order of the Gray Sisters, who ever since the Sorrow struck the kingdom of Loraille, have worked to make sure the dead stay resting. Artemisia is good at defending against the spirits, but with her scarred hands and nonexistent social skills, has never felt that she really fits in with the other novices.
And then, unbelievably, an army of the dead breaches the blessed walls of the convent, and Artemisia is the last defense against terrifying higher spirits. The only way to stop them is to try to use a saint’s relic that contains an even more powerful revenant, one that wants nothing more than its own freedom…
While a second book is due out in the fall, there is so far no sign of romance at all, a pleasant break from the usual teen drama. This was the winner of the teen spec fic category, and deservedly so. It had impressive world-building with an authentic medieval feel, though clearly an alternate world which worships the Lady and has a female-led church structure. This world-building and Artemisia’s growth both as a person and in using her abilities is spread through a pulse-pounding story of rising evil and corruption. My mother and I are both very excited for the next book!
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He. Roaring Brook Press, 2021. ISBN 9781250258564 Read from library copy.
Sometime in the future, Cee has spent three-plus years on an abandoned island with only a small refurbished android for company. She can’t remember how she got there, but she does remember that she has a sister, Kay, and that she needs to find her.
Sixteen-year-old Kasey, who once had a sister named Celia, lives in a floating eco-city, built to house deserving climate refugees, since too-frequent storms have made land unsafe. She’s trying to solve the mystery of Celia’s disappearance, as well as find a solution to save the vast numbers of earth’s population who won’t fit in the eco-cities. Both stories have their own struggles, and though it’s clear from the beginning that they must connect somehow, the twist that connects them is still mind-bending. This one, grounded in a failing Earth, looks at relationships in families and what we owe to our fellow humans.
Have you, dear reader, read any of these or the other finalists I haven’t gotten to yet? Let me know in the comments!