Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Andre Norton Breakdown, Pt. 2

So, research done, proceeding to evaluation. First, a quick review of what I'm reading for. A book could be the best book published last year and not fit award criteria. So, how is the Andre Norton Award defined?

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., (SFWA®) has created this new literary award to recognize outstanding science fiction and fantasy novels that are written for the young adult market. ... Any English-language book published as a young adult science fiction/fantasy novel is eligible, including graphic novels with no limit on word length or country of origin. Votes are cast by SFWA members in conjuction with the Nebula Awards.

Taking them in order read, how does each book match up?

Ash, by Malinda Lo. I read this months ago. It wasn't "just" a lesbian Cinderella, but what I chiefly remember is a dreamy familiarity. No crying, no laughing, no vivid images rising in my mind's eye. Shouldn't "outstanding" stick out in my head more?

Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi - okay, it's science fiction, and it's not bad, for half a book. I kept thinking as I read it that I was missing chunks of story, and I was right. The other half is contained in The Last Colony, which was published in 2006. And you know what else? It doesn't qualify. It was not "written for the young adult market." It's part of a series written and marketed for adults; the author admits in the end matter that he wrote this book in response to disatisfaction with what had been the last book in that series; and though he does a good job of the YA narrator and should consider the market, that doesn't make it a YA book. No vote.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead won a Newbery and was checked out with holds on it all over my library system, which is a good sign. And it is science fiction/fantasy - eventually. Most of the time it reads like a domestic novel, but it does deal with time travel from the point of view of someone in the past affected by a future time visitor, which gets her out of any need to explain the mechanism. It's full of clues and hints for the alert reader to pick up on, and I like that. It doesn't really tie my brain into a knot the way time travel stories should, though. And - you're going to think I'm a horrible nitpicker, but - I'm not sure it's YA. The age of the protagonists, the themes, and the style all say "MG" to me, as they did to the librarians who placed it in "juvenile." But as we all know, the boundaries between those two sections are fluid.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield. Cracking story, definitely SF/F (depending on exactly where you put his Weird Science steampunky tech), YA without question. Loses a point for not telling a full story, but since it's the first of a series that's not a big deal. I never felt that I was being shortchanged during the book.

Eyes Like Stars, by Lisa Mantchev. Fantasy, YA, another first in series, fun to read. I had problems with the worldbuilding that I could ignore while reading but that leaped out at me every time I put the book down. Where are the Players when not on call? Every play? Does that include the one-act plays we do in grade school, or the unproduced plays like Tolkien's "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorthelm's Son?" Could you define the term more? Why does anybody come to this theater if you never do new productions? If the Players only play one role why aren't they identical to that role? These things bother me. No vote.

Hotel Under the Sand - Kage Baker. I love this book. I would have loved this book when I was nine, though I wouldn't have understood it as well. It's got themes you can grow into and it's funny and it's dramatic and you can read it more than one way and this is what it's all about, people. I'm tempted to vote for it just for the line "No bully is a match for a dreadful ghost, or for two determined ladies with a cannon." But. Criterion. No way in heck is this YA. This is a children's book. The protagonist is 9. The themes and the way they're presented are ideal to encounter in elemetary school and revisit throughout the rest of your life. It's the best of the lot and I wish it had gotten more notice (any notice) in the industry but the fluidity of the juvenile/YA boundary is not fluid enough to let me vote for it for a YA award. Dagnab it.

Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst. This, on the other hand, is as YA as they come. It's pretty hard to do the Psyche story (technically, "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," but at the motif level it's all the same) without being YA. And it's good. The fact that I find the heroine annoying for most of the book doesn't change that. The only time I like her at all is when she's insisting on having her own work and figuring out how to make that fit her new lifestyle, which is sympathetic. But everything else about her grates so hard on my nerves I'm having trouble deciding whether the book itself is outstanding or merely good.

This left me with The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making. As I mentioned, hate the title - it sounds, oh, what's the word? Cutesy? Phony? But I'm prejudiced by its only being available online - inconvenient to read and self-published! - so I shrug that off and dive in. Unfortunately, yesterday was a bad balance day. I felt crappy, my defenses were low, and by the third chapter I was hiding under the desk crying; "The adverbs! The adverbs! Oh, the horror!" I understand this has been picked up by Feivel and Friends, so maybe when it comes out as a book, having undergone an editing process and been purged of words like "rather" and "quite," it'll be readable, but right now it's like a rough draft of what a children's book is supposed to be, built on an inperceptive reading of late 19th-early 20th century British fantasy and played to the gallery. And, by the way, the author addresses her audience once, as adults, so I'm allowed to stop there and say she's disqualified herself for this award. Whew.

Used to, we were asked to rank each nominee, with points awarded for all the different rankings a book received and the winner having most points. This year, we're supposed to vote for only one, and it appears that the only book that qualifies about which I have no reservations is Leviathan. So that's that.

I'd have voted for Hotel Under the Sand if I could.

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