Who's Nominated for the Morris Award for Debut YA Fiction?

As I was preparing my post for the YA Debut Author Giveaway Hop, I was checking out my reviewing stats to see how many debut books I read in 2013. This year I read 40, while last year I read 64.

But I'm excited to report that this year, I've read four out of five of the Morris nominated YA books. I even picked one of them as a prize for my stop on the Hop. But I really enjoyed all four, and will tell you a little about each one…

Belle Epoque 
by Elizabeth Ross
Delacorte BFYR
Summary from Morris announcement: When Maude Pichon moved to Paris, she never dreamed she would end up working for the Durandeau Agency as a “repoussoir”—a foil for society’s elite who believe a plain face alongside them makes them look more beautiful. A countess hires Maude as a companion for her daughter, Isabelle, but as the girls’ friendship grows, Maude finds herself torn between her integrity and her livelihood.
Excerpt from my June 8 review:  Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, Belle Epoque was inspired by a short story by Émile Zola called Les Repoussoirs. In the story, a salesman rents out unattractive girls to serve as companions for young society women on the marriage market, making their employers seem lovelier by comparison.The story opens as Maude -- who has fled to Paris to escape an unappealing arranged marriage -- answers a newspaper ad and learns about the repoussoir concept. At first, she's insulted and horrified, but she needs the money and eventually accepts a job as companion to Isabelle, the daughter of a countess. Belle Epoque is rich in sensory description and full of wonderful details about turn-of-the-century Paris.

*    *     *    *

Charm and Strange
by Stephanie Kuehn 
St. Martin’s Griffin
Summary from Morris announcement: Drew, also known as “Win,” has been isolated in a New Hampshire boarding school since he was 12. Though he excels at both academics and athletics, he is concealing a horrific secret that has driven him to the brink of madness. With the help of his friends, can Win confront the beast within him before it’s too late?

Excerpt from my July Goodreads review:  An intriguing and well-written book that alternates chapters between Win/Drew's present life at a Vermont boarding school and his past as a ten year-old. Though there are a few very familiar YA tropes here -- a main character who is an outcast at a tony New England boarding school, and a murdered teenager -- this book definitely puts an original spin on them.

Based on the clues that were given (some very strange interactions between Drew and his family, the book's title and chapter subtitles, which I think are physics terms, plus the fact that this book reminded me of a 2009 YA book -- don't want to say more as that would be a spoiler for both books) I was able to figure out the big mystery about half-way through the book. I really liked the unique spin that Charm and Strange put on all the genre, the way the book was structured, and the writing. Again, I don't want to say much, because part of the pleasure of this book is trying to put all the pieces together. And even when you've done that, this book will still have you thinking…

*     *     *     *

In the Shadow of Blackbirds 
by Cat Winters
Amulet Books

Summary from Morris announcement: At the height of the Spanish flu pandemic, WWI, and the Spiritualism movement, outspoken Mary Shelley Black is adrift in a fear-ravaged San Diego. While her childhood friend Stephen challenges her heart, his antagonistic spirit-photographer brother, Julius, represents everything her scientific mind abhors. When the unthinkable happens, how will Mary Shelley endure the unbearable losses, not to mention the evolution of her supernatural abilities?

Excerpt from my April 1 review:  In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a unique and haunting story. Mary Shelley Black is smart and stubborn and a little rebellious, and you can literally feel her chafing against the limitations on women in 1918, a time in which men had gone off to war, but most American women were still not allowed to vote. In the Shadow of Blackbirds takes some real and fascinating issues of the time -- World War I, the Spanish Influenza epidemic, and spiritualist photography -- and weaves them together in a story that is both incredibly gripping and truly spooky.  I highly recommend this one if you're feeling like you need something really fresh and different, if you're a lover of historical fiction and/or ghost stories, or if you just love a good story, compellingly told.

*     *     *     *

Sex & Violence
by Carrie Mesrobian, 
published by Carolrhoda LAB

Summary from Morris announcement: Evan Carter bounces from school to school—he has no friends and views girls as nothing more than a means to sexual release. When a brutal attack leaves him physically and mentally broken, Evan must evaluate what matters in his life and learn how to “accept responsibility, but not blame.”

Excerpt from my October 31 review: Its in-your-face title aside, Sex & Violence is an understated, beautifully crafted account of both recovery and self-discovery. Evan's father has a job that drags the two of them all over the place, from town to town and school to school. As a result, Evan is used to being the new kid, which actually works in his favor when it comes to girls. Girls, as Evan has discovered, love anything new and shiny. Evan starts secretly hooking up with Colette. She seems like just the right girl to get involved with, but ends up being the wrong one, and Evan ends up in the hospital, seriously injured. This part of the book is a mere nineteen pages. The rest of the story deals with the aftermath of the assault, with Evan moving to a family cabin in Minnesota with his father, staying put for the first time in his life. Amidst the stillness of Pearl Lake, Evan will come to terms with what happened to him, but also with his life -- how he relates to others, how he approaches relationships, how he fits into his family. His journey is not a straightforward one, and incorporates many themes: nature, intimacy, motion vs. stillness, authenticity vs. superficiality.  If you're a reader who likes contemporary fiction that's gritty but also thoughtful and complex, definitely give this a try.

*    *    *    *

Also nominated, but I did not read:

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets 
by Evan Roskos
Houghton Mifflin

Summary from Morris announcement: James has a lot on his plate: strained relationships, a fractured family, and an all-consuming anxiety. He deals with depression by hugging trees, “yawp”-ing at the world like his idol Walt Whitman, and conversing with his imaginary therapist—a pigeon named Dr. Bird.
Congratulations to all the nominees!  The winner will be announced at ALA Midwinter at the end of January.


  1. I was so happy when I saw In the Shadow of Blackbirds the other day! I actually predicted this in my review and I wasn't in the least bit surprised, but wow, was I glad to see my prediction come true. I haven't read the other ones yet, but I will.

    1. I loved that book -- it was such an amazing blend of historical fiction, the supernatural and a coming of age/love story.

  2. I've never even heard of any of these! Thanks for flagging them up to us! :-)

  3. This may sound bad but I haven't read any of them and I'm actually kinda glad about that. None of these really sound like my cup of tea at all.

    1. It does not sound bad. I read some of the "Best of 2013" lists and many of the books on those lists did not appeal to me. Thankfully, there are plenty of books for us to choose from!

  4. I really want to read In the shadow of blackbirds!

  5. Sounds like great books. I have not read any of them so I guess I should get to it huh? LOL

  6. I haven't read any of these! But the shadow of blackbirds in on my TBR I heard it's super creepy and good :)

  7. Well I own three of these books but have only read one (I am SUCH A LOSER, but I digress...) That's cool that you have read all four. Which would I like better--Charm and Strange or Belle Epoque??

    1. I will email you, but Belle Epoque has the art themes and feminism you love, so I'd go for that. However, Charm and Strange is a really cool book!!!

  8. A friend is sending me Sex & Violence. I'm really looking forward to reading that one.

  9. Yay for ITSOB! That was a great book. I would have liked the ending to be a bit different, but overall, great story.

  10. I've heard positive things about In the Shadow of Blackbirds and also think Belle Epoque sounds really good. On the other hand, reviews I've read about Charm and Strange haven't been very good. The other two I haven't heard of, but congrats to you for reading 4/5 of them! :-)

  11. I've only read In The Shadow of Blackbirds and I LOVED it! I even bought my Mom a copy for Mothers day =) I'm going to add the other to my TBR they all sound good!

  12. I reeally wanted to read Charm & Strange. But I never got around to it. Grrr. It sounds like a really epic book (and I'm kind of dying to know what the "terrible thing" the blurb talks about was ;).

  13. I've only read In the Shadow of Blackbirds though I have the three others on my list because of your review. I guess I'll add Dr Bird too so I can explore the diversity of this debut fiction.

  14. Oh, I read the same 4 books you did, Jen! What does that say about us? :D

    I liked Charm & Strange, Sex & Violence, and Shadow of the Blackbirds quite a lot. I wasn't as huge a fan of Belle Epoque, but I'd be interested in seeing what else that author does down the road. Hooray for debut authors!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden


Post a Comment

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you will share your thoughts on this post!