2016 Nominee Reviews

Find out about all our 2016 nominees here!

An Ember in the Ashes by Semberabaa Tahir

Laia must save her brother Darin after he is captured for treason. Her only hope of saving him is to become a spy at the Empire’s military academy. If she becomes a slave girl, the rebels will hopefully find and
free her brother.

Elias is a remarkable soldier but has considered leaving. When he is expected to compete in the trials to choose the next ruler things starts to get uneasy. He notices a slave girl and begins to wonder about her story. When their paths cross secrets arise.

In a world where military rules and the common people live in fear of the Empire Elias and Laia must keep their secrets hidden. Full of deceit, suspense, and tests of honor, An Ember in the Ashes keeps the reader hooked until the end.

Posted by Katharina on February 23,2016.


The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

walls“Maybe long ago we used to be good. Maybe all little girls were good in the beginning.”

This moody psychological thriller centers around three girls and their secrets: Amber, an inmate inside a secure juvenile-detention center; Violet, a Julliard ballet dancer about to be a star; and Orianna, the “Bloody Ballerina”, Violet’s former best friend who killed two girls, went to prison, and died years later. The publisher called Suma’s latest novel a cross between Black Swan and Orange is the New Black and it definitely fits. This is a weird story of unreliable narrators, ghosts, and the fine line between guilt and innocence. Intensity and dread build as the girls’ stories twist around each other, eventually revealing the sinister truth amid all the lies and leaving a lasting impression on readers.

Posted by Krista on February 19, 2016

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

nimona_finalNimona leaves her webcomic and enters the world of print in this National Book Award Finalist graphic novel. This unusual superhero tale follows shapeshifter Nimona as she becomes sidekick to (sorta, but not really) villain Ballister Blackheart, and together they take on Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, the (not really) good guys. Blackheart likes to keep things civil and play by the rules, but Nimona wants to up their game through violence and chaos. As they work together to take down the Institution, Nimona leads Blackheart into increasingly dangerous situations. Despite their different approaches to villainy, Nimona and Blackheart develop a sincere friendship.

Through this funny, heartfelt, quirky, thoughtful graphic novel, Noelle Stevenson explores ideas of the complexity of good and evil and the importance of friendship, even for supposedly bad guys. Even if you aren’t normally a graphic novel reader, this is one you shouldn’t let pass you by.

Posted by Emily on February 17, 2016

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye Stranger

As best friends, Bridge, Tab, and Em have been through basically everything together. But they’re about to endure their biggest challenge yet … 7th grade. Just like that, they go from being carefree kids who draw little characters on all their assignments to serious students who have to pick clubs, aligning themselves with new sets of friends. They try their best to still be there for each other, even as their interests draw them in separate directions, just a little bit at a time. Then Stead throws in a couple first crushes and the world of our trio goes seriously wonky. Early on, one of the main three gets in trouble for texting pics of herself in her bra to an 8th grade boy. That sets into motion all these little whirring pieces that bring the friends closer while they’re still trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in.

There are so many interesting subplots in Goodbye Stranger — Bridge’s friend-maybe-crush Sherm has a grandfather who left the family, some chapters are speaking to “you” while you’re ditching school because you’re avoiding conflicts — that you can really lose yourself in the drama. But really what’s best is that Stead provides so much to think about that it’s just as easy to find yourself, too.

Posted by Abby on February 15, 2016

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman


Caden Bosch is torn between two worlds. The world on Challenger Deep and the world as a high school student. Can he keep his two worlds from completely unraveling?

This is going to to be a blunt statement, but the first 30 pages of this book are confusing and bizarre. However, for the sake of all good books, please…PLEASE…continue reading. While many authors have delved into mental illness, Shusterman stands apart from all others. Rather than telling his readers about a character with mental illness, Shusterman immerses his readers in Caden’s mind. You won’t read about a mental illness. You will get a minuscule taste of what a mental illness might be like for some.

Shustermaan has given Challenger Deep many levels. This book will make its readers want to reread it, dissect it, and then devour it again.

Posted by Briony on February 11th, 2016

All the bright places

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Finch and Violet couldn’t be more different. He’s the school pariah thanks to his mental illness and she’s the co-author of a well-known blog that has earned her a spot at the top of the school’s food chain. However, when Violet’s sister and co-author, Eleanor, dies in a car accident, her world unravels and she finds herself atop the school bell tower contemplating suicide. Luckily that happens to be Finch’s favorite hangout spot and he’s able to talk her off the ledge after she makes him swear to secrecy. Before long, Finch insinuates himself into Violet’s life via a geography project and Violet finds herself inexplicably drawn to him. Together they embark on a whirlwind adventure that involves overcoming fears, trying new things and exploring the great state of Indiana.

All the Bright Places is a sad tale of love, loss, compassion and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Posted by Lisa on February 2nd, 2016


I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Noah and Jude are twins that are very close to each other but things are about to change.  Noah is always silent and Jude is very outspoken, even rebellious toward her mother.   Noah loves to draw the world around him, especially people.  When his mother announces at dinner one night that they are going to apply to go to CSA, a prestigious art school, for high school, Noah is excited.  Jude is not.  Even though they are only in seventh grade they need to start getting their portfolios ready to submit with their application.  Jude is worried because she is not obsessed with art and doesn’t think she has a chance compared to her brother’s talent.   Things don’t go as assumed when Jude gets into CSA and Noah doesn’t.  He is devastated and totally rejects all art.    He changes his image to the hip teen at the beach.   While Jude rejects her pretty girl image for her obsession with talking to her dead grandmother and adding her superstitious ways to her daily life.   When a tragic event hits their family the twins grow even further apart.

Noah at age 13 and Jude at age 16 tell their side of the story in alternating viewpoints.  As the story develops neither wants to talk to the other but they both have so much they need to say to each other to make things better.  How can they keep hiding secrets from one another?  Will their art abilities hinder them further or help them find peace and harmony once again in their lives? This is a heartfelt story about love, loss, secrets, and finding oneself in the process.

Posted by Katharina on January 29th, 2016

cuckoo songCuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Triss is a delicate, pampered child, indulged by her wealthy parents and hated by her younger sister Pen. After a near-drowning in the river, of which she has no memory, Triss feels like a stranger in her own body. She has trouble recognizing familiar places and people and her thoughts don’t feel quite right. Her parents, still grieving for the son they lost to war, seem afraid of her. Add to that strange dreams and a gnawing hunger that can’t be satiated and Triss is afraid something otherworldly happened to her the night she almost drowned, especially since Pen insists that the Triss that returned is an evil imposter. As Triss hunts for the truth, she uncovers a magical community of Besiders led by a dark figure called the Architect who is set out to destroy her family.

Set in post-WWI England, this beautiful and frightening novel is more than a scary supernatural mystery; it’s also a heartfelt, deeply emotional novel about war, grief, friendship, and family.

Posted by Krista on January 26, 2016

Dime by E.R. Frank


All thirteen-year-old, Dime wanted was: “To be touched gently. To be seen clearly. To be part of a family. To be fed regularly. To be protected. To be loved for free.” So when Dime’s foster mother, Janelle, kicks her out for choosing school over staying home to take care of her foster siblings, Dime finds herself in a tough situation.

While waiting out in the cold, weighing her options, Dime meets L.A. who offers Dime a place to stay and a warm meal at her Daddy’s place. Life at Daddy’s house seems like heaven at first – he feeds her, he buys her new clothes, he tells her she’s smart and beautiful, he really sees her or so she thinks. Before long Daddy has her working the streets for him as a prostitute and Dime can’t find a way out, until eleven-year-old Lollipop comes along and changes everything.

Dime, is a heartbreaking story about the ugly truth of human trafficking in our country, told from the point of view of a desperate and relatable girl. 

Posted by Lisa on January 22nd, 2016

Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond

Bright Lights, Dark NightsWalter Wilcox lives in a city of stories. There are the stories out in the open, the ones you see on the news and talk about. Then there are the quiet stories, in the dark shadows where the right people know where to look. Walter wasn’t looking for anything when he noticed Naomi Mills. He wasn’t even at her house for her, rather he was hanging out with Jason, her older brother and his friend. A spark between the two sent them to a Foo Fighter’s concert, and before he knew it he was head over heels for her.

He wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, and there was Naomi. Beautiful, smart and funny, he felt like they had it all. Of course, when it came to telling their families, things could not have gone worse. It didn’t help that Jason and Walter were friends first, or that Naomi’s family wasn’t quite for her to date. It really boiled down to the fact that Walter’s police officer father is involved in a very public issue regarding his arrest of a young black man. It doesn’t help that Walter and his father are white, while Naomi and her family are black.

In a story that is a Romeo and Juliet for the post-Michael Brown age, Walter and Naomi truly love each other, yet the outside world wants them to be something more. Bright Lights, Dark Nights is a romance that puts the pressure of the world on an easy going couple. Told in illustrations and words, the city plays a shadowy character, giving views of the different worlds they live in. Will Walter fight for what he wants or will pressure from family, friends and the world be too much for Walter and Naomi?

Posted by Katie on January 19th, 2016

In Real Life by Cory Doctorown and Jen Wang

In real lifeAnda Bridges lives a fairly ordinary life until the day Liza McCombs (a.k.a. Lizanator, President of Clan Fahrenheit) visits her computer science class to talk to everyone about Coarsegold, the fastest growing massive multi-player online role playing game. After asking the girls in the class if they game and finding out that many of them do, but they don’t play female characters in their games; Liza offers all the girls in the class probationary membership in Clan Fahrenheit with the option to become full-fledged members within three months if they measure up.

Excited by the idea, Anda goes home and convinces her parents to let her join and signs on as KaliDestroyer. After playing for a while and leveling up, Anda is approached by Sarge, another member of Clan Fahrenheit and told that she can make money by playing Coarsegold. All she has to do is kill gold farmers when she sees them. However, after doing a bit of research on gold farmers, Anda discovers that many of them are teens like her working in poor conditions. Curious to know more, she approaches a gold farmer and talks to him after he helps her in the game. She discovers that his name is Raymond, he lives in China and he works twelve hour days collecting gold in the game to make money. Anda tries to educate Raymond about labor laws, but soon Sarge senses something is afoot and tries to kill Raymond. Will Anda pass probation and become a full-fledged member of a clan in a world she loves or will she fight to help her new friend?

Posted by Lisa on January 15th, 2016

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
19547856Sixteen-year-old Simon is a typical high school student. He has a close group of friends, loves Oreos, and has no problem dropping Harry Potter references in conversations. Simon is also gay. No one knows that Simon is gay except Blue – Simon’s email pen pal turned love interest. All Simon knows about Blue is that he attends the same school as Simon, loves grammar, is half-Jewish, and understands Simon. However, Simon’s relationship with Blue is jeopardized when Simon’s emails fall into a classmate’s hands. Now being blackmailed, Simon must try to stop his sexual identity from being exposed and save his relationship with Blue, all while trying to navigate the rest of his junior year of high school.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda avoids all the stereotypical, cliché teen literary drama and instead speaks with an authentic voice. Readers will discover true to life characters, complex but heartfelt relationships, and a plot with multiple layers that is completely navigable and relatable. Here is a book filled with everyday struggles, laughter, tears, anger, hormones, awww moments, and utter teen spirit.

Posted by Briony on January 13th, 2016

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

mosquitolandAfter overhearing a conversation between her father and stepmother about her mother’s illness, Mary Iris Malone (also known as Mim) drops everything and boards a Greyhound bus determined to reach her mother by Labor Day, which is only four days away.  Thus starts Mim’s journey from Mississippi to Cleveland, which should be a straight forward bus ride, but turns into a winding journey along which she encounters an odd mix of characters that will make readers laugh, cringe, smile, and maybe cry.

Ultimately, Mim’s twisted adventure allows her to reflect on the past, confront the truth about her parents’ divorce, and tackle her fears regarding her own sanity.  Discovering oneself on a road trip is a classic plot that can be found in many books, but what makes Mosquitoland so refreshing is Mim’s quirky point of view and sardonic wit that makes it hard not to like her. If Mim’s antics don’t draw you in the following questions make the book hard to put down: Who is Isabel whom Mim writes letters to throughout her journey?  What illness is Mim’s mother suffering from, and why can’t Mim contact her? And finally, will Mim make it to Cleveland by Labor Day?

Posted by Tara on January 12th, 2016

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

wrathAn intoxicating and thrilling tale based on the classic stories of A Thousand and One Nights and the Arabian Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn will take your breath away, have you on the edge of your seat and leave you desperate for more.

Shahrzad, a 16-year-old girl full of anger, vengeance and blind courage, has just lost her best friend at the hands of the crazed Caliph of Khorasan, Khalid, the 18-year-old ruler of her land.  He marries a different young women each night and then kills her at sunrise.

Shazi wants revenge on this evil man and she has plans to do so by volunteering to be his next bride. Her charm, intelligence and masterful storytelling keep her alive past dawn to continue on to complete her mission.  However, Khalid isn’t quite what she had bargained for and his reputation as an evil ruler may be more tall tale then truth.

Could this young man who killed her best friend and so many other girls have a  heart? Could there be something more sinister going on in the kingdom than his penchant for sunrise executions?  Go read this complex and rich tale of love and intrigue NOW.

Posted by Keri on January 5, 2016

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