For the past two years I’ve been reading all the nominations and guessing (correctly) the winner of the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards in the Young Adult category. So this year I thought I would give it another go.
This year there seems to be a lot of similarity between the titles with lots of fantasy and science fiction. Guardian of the Dead is set very much in Christchurch pre-quake and what starts off like a school romance story quickly becomes more surreal as the characters become embroiled in Māori mythology that turns out to be a more literal explanation of the world than perhaps one suspected. With witches, monsters, gods, blood-thirsty faerie folk and a somewhat bizarre romance, this is derivative teen fiction with a Māori theme. It is very readable and I would certainly recommend it to teenagers – but after describing our beautiful and gloriously gaudy Peacock fountain as “a monstrosity” it can’t possibly get my vote to win!
Maurice Gee’s Limping Man is the third part of the Salt trilogy, the first of which won the award in 2008, I must confess to not getting very far with this. A world with an evil enigmatic powerful villain and heroes with strange supernatural powers sounds thrilling but it all got a bit tedious – it seemed to lack the pace and page turning suspense of a great Young Adult novel.
The opposite could be said for Smiling Jack – devoured voraciously in one sitting. A whodunit in a small town with a bizarre religious sect, a mysterious bottomless pit, missing gold bullion and bodies turning up all over town. This had great pace and kept you guessing right til the end. My only quibble was weak and unrealistic characterisation which didn’t really ruin the plot but did make the story less believable.
The two other contenders – Ebony Hill and Fierce September, I have blogged about previously – both of these are part two books (I would recommend reading part one of both first) and both excellent reads. However, both are slightly ruined in this competition by their similarity to each other. But of the two I found Fierce September more enjoyable, and probably my favourite of all the nominees.
So who will win?
I’m really not sure. The Guardian of the Dead has the strongest New Zealand theme which sets it apart from other international literature, something important in a New Zealand-only contest and something the judges may well go for.
However, I would really like Fleur Beale’s Fierce September to win – she was also nominated in 2009 and 2010 with excellent titles Juno of Taris and The End of the Alphabet beaten only by an outstanding other entry each time (The 10pm Question and The Crossing). So this time I’ll go with my heart and pick Fierce September, the results will be revealed Wednesday evening.
But what do you think?