Here’s the skinny.
BOMB . . . Five starred reviews, three best lists, National Book Award finalist, and YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist. The most buzzed nonfiction title of the year, BOMB is a thrilling cloak and dagger story that virtually reads like a novel.
CODE NAME VERITY . . . Six starred reviews, six best lists, Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award. The standout literary fiction title of the year–with apologies to Margo Lanagan. So happy to see Wein getting the recognition she deserves. Now go check out all of her previous books, too.
ENDANGERED . . . One starred review, National Book Award finalist. Having worked in Sierra Leone with the Peace Corps, Monica was really impressed by Schrefer’s ability to capture the complex nuances of the continent. I wasn’t quite as enamored, but I figured it would make a nice bye round for either CODE NAME VERITY or THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Hey, what the %$#@ happened to the seeding!
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS . . . Six starred reviews, six best lists. I’m never convinced that the new John Green novel is the Best Thing Ever Written–Like Ever, but I always think it’s a virtual lock for BBYA Top Ten (or whatever they’re calling that committee now).
JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS . . . Three starred reviews. With two other strong books in this niche–THE WICKED AND THE JUST, THE UNFORTUNATE SON–we thought this one was clearly the best. Probably a bit of a surprise for many people, but we hope it’s a pleasant one.
LIAR & SPY . . . Five starred reviews, four best lists. If WHEN YOU REACH ME used a little bit of its time travel magic it could drop into a match-up with LIAR & SPY. That match-up has provided a subtext to the Newbery conversation all season–and it’s time we settled it once and for all.
MOONBIRD . . . Six starred reviews, five best lists. I’m in complete agreement with Nina over at Heavy Medal that the sentence level writing in this book probably tops all of the other nonfiction books, the book design is striking, and the documentation is impeccable. Should BOMB falter on its way to Newbery glory, this one should be able to fill its shoes.
NO CRYSTAL STAIR . . . Four starred reviews, four best lists, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. This book left some people cold, but this one gets me in both my head and my heart every time I read it.
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN . . . Three starred reviews, two best lists. I’m not sure that any middle grade novel has the combination of accessibility and literary merit that this one does. Many have drawn comparisons to CHARLOTTE’S WEB. High praise, indeed.
SERAPHINA . . . Six starred reviews, three best lists, Morris shortlist, Governor General shortlist. The standout high fantasy title of the year. With the three of us being such fans of the genre, it’s surprising that this is the sole representative on the list.
SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS . . . Five starred reviews, five best lists. Despite being underwhelmed by this one on a first reading, I have been slowly coming around. Monica, on the other hand, made it clear in her New York Times review that she was a fan from the start.
STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY . . . Five starred reviews, two best lists. I’ll admit to being a lukewarm fan of WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, but we all agreed that this one was superb.
TEMPLE GRANDIN . . . One starred review. This is fabulous. I know it’s been a deep year for nonfiction, and maybe that had something to do with this one not getting its fair share of starry love, but I think the review journals definitely let this one down a bit. Boo. Hiss.
THREE TIMES LUCKY . . . Three starred reviews, three best lists. This has and endearing Southern heroine, a charming cast of characters, and several mysteries afoot in one of the most notable debuts of the year.
TITANIC . . . Four starred reviews, two best lists. We tossed a coin between this one and WE’VE GOT A JOB. Kidding! Both books are excellent models of narrative nonfiction and having to make a choice was tough, but in the end all three of us opted for the doomed ship.
WONDER . . . Four starred reviews, four best lists. This was an early favorite from the spring season, and although the Newbery fervor cooled substantially over the year, there is still an enthusiastic audience of parents, teachers, librarians, and kids.
So there you have it.
–Commentator Jonathan Hunt