I am a Hugo voter this year (you can be, too, by paying the fee) and I have set off to try to read everything that was nominated in the awards so that I can more fairly vote for what I believe are the best works of the year. The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book is not technically a Hugo Award, but it is awarded at the same time for the best YA novel of the year in the genres of science fiction or fantasy. I have read all the nominees for this year and given them reviews and scores below. Please let me know what you think, too!
Chaos on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer- Grade: B+
I was blindsided by the first Catnet book, Catfishing on Catnet, which I did not know anything about going in. I read it because it was picked for a group read in the Sci Fi and Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads. It was awesome. A YA adventure that touched on religion, LGBTQ+ questions, online forums, and more. It felt like something I could have lived as a young adult on forums and stuff a decade or so before I read it. The second book picks up where the previous one left off, with the questions of AI and religion looming large. There’s not a lot I can say without spoiling things, but Kritzer once more delivers the goods. It’s a solid read front-to-back and while I didn’t find it quite as transcendently great as the first one, I had a good time reading it.
Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders- Grade: C
I am not sure what I expected going in to this story. The blurb makes it sound like a kind of weird coming-of-age story and I guess that would be a pretty accurate way to describe it. It’s a fun enough plot, but everything feels sort of light and cheery and… saccharine. Even though the main baddies are pretty bad… it all feels so airy that it’s difficult to take seriously. The ending didn’t really do it for me, either, to the point where I found the whole story forgettable.
The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik- Grade: B-
The second book in a magical school series from Novik continues to demonstrate her excellent grasp of writing deep characters. Unfortunately, it also has the main flaw I found from the first book–which is that I don’t find myself really liking any of them. I ultimately found this to be a book I wanted to love more than I did. Credit to Novik for a compelling world, plot, and characters, though.
Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko- Grade: A
Jordan Ifueko closes out a duology that features African mythology, religion, magic, and love. Ifueko’s prose is strong, and her narrative voice is utterly compelling. Tarisai is a wonderful protagonist and the challenges she faces as she seeks to find her own space in a world in which everyone is trying to pull her in different directions makes for compulsive reading. Will she be able to bring justice to a world that has so often lacked for it? Read the duology to find out.
A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger- Grade: B+
Somehow both haunting and cute, this story of a Lipan Apache girl, Nina, and a (literal) snake-kid, Oli looks like an easy read. Then, you get to some of the content and it’s like hold up, this is going to be a ride. Whether it’s a story about breaking free of one’s made up bonds are living into one’s destiny, Darcie Little Badger delivers strong themes that will leave readers thinking long after finishing the book.
The Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao- Grade: A
I don’t know if there’s anything not to love in this wildly creative, angry book. It’s in-your-face attack on misogyny and other ills could be incredibly off-putting if it wasn’t balanced with an excellent plot, strong main character, and intriguing world. There are alien threats, mechs, attacks on cultural norms, and other great scenes in abundance here. Somehow the churning broth of this concoction all comes together and works and it does it so well. My only complaint here is that while the mechs are super cool, I wanted them to be even more fully realized and utilized. More mech action, please! Anyway, do yourself a favor and read this one. It’ll punch you in the gut and you’ll like it.
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