Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Two That Didn't Make It

As most of you know, I served as one of the Round 1 judges for the YA SF/F panel on the Cybils this year. You guys, it was incredibly tough to pick just seven books out of a field of 172. That's 4%. Yes, I actually calculated that. As we got down to the wire on the very last few books, duking it out for one of those seven spots, I had to let these two go not because they were bad, but because others were better. Overall, I'm really happy and excited about the books we chose. But hoo, did I love these.

Over at the Cybils blog, our Fearless Leader (different than Glorious Leader, trust me), put forth this challenge/consolation/sweet gumball treat:
If you were a Round 1 judge this year, I bet you have a few favorites that didn't quite make the short list. Maybe others didn't agree with you or you couldn't quite make your voice heard above the online din. If you blog about which book or two (or three) was a personal favorite, I'd love to link to it.
Never let it be said that I ignored the chance to blather on about what I think. So without too much further ado, here are the books that I really wished could have made it onto our shortlist:

Chime by Franny Billingsley
Source: Local Library

It's all Briony's fault. She knows it. She was responsible for her twin sister Rose's brain damage, she's responsible for her stepmother's death, and all manner of other horrors visited upon Swampsea. She's responsible because she's a witch, and witches are evil. So why does Eldric treat her like a real girl? And why, when she's around him, does she yearn so much to be one?

For me, Chime was all about the language. Normally, literary language makes me crazy. I like a well-turned sentence as much as the next geek, but the books that are all about, "Oh, look how pretty I can make it! Plot? What plot?" are just about guaranteed a one-way trip to my wall. But this book was different. The lushness of the language pulls you past all Briony's ferocious prickles into her mangled psyche like one of her swamp monsters. The twisty-turny sentences are like the paths of her mind, which loop back on themselves until you're no longer quite sure which came first, the guilt or the responsibility. Briony's guilty because she's a witch because she's guilty because it's all her fault because she's a witch because she just knows, that's how. And of course, when you can't find the beginning of that Gordian knot, you know there's something hiding on the inside. That's the plot, such as it is, of Chime--a girl finally confronting the darkness inside herself and discovering what cast such a long shadow in the first place.

This book absolutely captivated me and I wanted to read pieces aloud to anyone who would listen.

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
Source: Review copy from publisher via

It's the end of the world as she knows it. Dying of a brain tumor, Alex takes one last solitary hike into the wilderness to scatter the ashes of her parents. While she's there, a sudden worldwide electromagnetic pulse blows out all modern technology and slaughters most of the adults between twenty and sixty, knocking humanity in general back to the Dark Ages. But it's a Dark Ages that still remembers modernity, and also one populated by teens inexplicably turning into cannibal monsters. Along with Tom, an Afghanistan vet, and Ellie, an orphaned eight-year-old, Alex fights for survival in a world where nothing can be trusted anymore.

I actually read this one shortly before the Cybils started. I spent the entire time clutching my e-reader, wondering what else could go wrong for Alex and for humanity. This book was grisly, gory, gritty, and utterly compelling. (Sorry, couldn't come up with another G adjective.) Alex, who is competent and practical in all situations, really anchored the book through the horror. I think the choice to give her a terminal illness at the start affected this most. Because she was living on borrowed time as it was, she wasted very little time grieving for what she'd lost, because she'd already given it up. She was able to take her horrible new world just as it was. Although the plot took a rather strange left turn about three-quarters of the way through the story, I still couldn't put it down. And I can't wait for the next book, which may or may not answer some of my burning questions.


Amy said...

Someone told me people either loved or hated Chime. I absolutely loved it.

Bibliovore said...

That certainly seems to be the case, Amy. Maybe it's Briony. She's the kind of person who'd be tough to get along with in real life, so I think if you don't like her as a main character, the book doesn't work. We spend the entire time in her head.

Me, I'm a little odd. I like the prickly ones.

Abby said...

Ahh yes, that was one of the hardest things for me about being on Cybils committees in the past - the books that have to be left behind! I'm glad you gave them a shoutout, though. I tried to read CHIME and found it slow going. Definitely beautiful and haunting, but not really my thing, I guess.

Bibliovore said...

Whereas I couldn't put it down. Funny how differently people react, isn't it?

Unknown said...

It is so hard that we can't award all the books that we loved. Thanks for sharing these.

Beth said...

Gripping? Or is that not utterly compelling enough? Ashes looks like a hard but rewarding read.

Bibliovore said...

Ha! Gripping. Dang. How did I miss that? It is pretty hard to read, but boy, I could not put it down.