2015 AML Awards Finalists #3: Young Adult and Middle Grade Novel

We are excited to announce the finalists in the third group of categories of 2015 Association for Mormon Letters awards, Young Adult and Middle Grade Novel. We previously announced Creative Non-Fiction and Religious Non-Fiction and Novel, Short Fiction Collection, and Short Fiction, and soon will announce Comics, Criticism, Drama, Film, Lyrics, Picture Book, and Poetry. The final awards will be announced and presented at the AML Conference on March 4 at BYU Hawaii. The finalist announcements include blurbs about each of the books and author biographies, usually provided by the publishers or authors.

Young Adult Novel


Courtney Alameda. Shutter. Feiwel and Friends/Macmillian.

“Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She’s aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera’s technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever. When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn’t exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she’s faced before . . . or die trying.”

Courtney Alameda’s spent her entire career trying to con and cajole people into reading great books. A veteran of the big-box bookstore trenches, Courtney now works as a librarian for the prettiest library you’ve ever seen (Provo), where she spends her time ordering large stacks of YA books, doing readers’ advisory, and dressing up as various mythical creatures for a variety of library events. Courtney holds a B.A. in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University. A Northern California native, she now resides in Utah with a legion of books and a tiny, five pound cat who possesses a giant personality

Valynne Maetani. Ink and Ashes. Tu/Lee & Low.

“Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away when she was a little girl. But on the anniversary of his death, not long before her seventeenth birthday, she finds a mysterious letter from her deceased father, addressed to her stepfather. Claire never even knew that they had met. Claire knows she should let it go, but she can’t shake the feeling that something’s been kept from her. In search of answers, Claire combs through anything that will give her information about her father . . . until she discovers he was a member of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed. So begins the race to outrun his legacy as the secrets of her father’s past threaten Claire’s friends and family, newfound love, and ultimately her life. A heart-stopping debut mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.”

Valynne E. Maetani (pronounced Vuh-lin Mah-eh-tah-nee) grew up in Utah and obtained a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In a former life, she was a project manager and developed educational software for children with learning disabilities. Currently, she is a full-time writer. She is a member of the We Need Diverse Books team and is dedicated to promoting diversity in children’s literature because every child should grow up believing his or her story deserves to be told. Her debut novel, Ink and Ashes, is the winner of the New Visions Award 2013, a Junior Library Guild 2015 selection, and Best Fiction Book in Salt Lake City Weekly’s Best of Utah Arts. Award for 2015.  She lives in Salt Lake City.

Brandon Sanderson. Firefight. Delacorte Press/Random House. Reckoners #2.

“They told David it was impossible—that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart—invincible, immortal, unconquerable—is dead. And he died by David’s hand. Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs. Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David’s willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic—Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.”

Brandon Sanderson’s many books include Elantris (2005 AML Novel Award), the Mistborn trilogy and its followup The Alloy of Law, Warbreaker , and The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, the first two in the planned ten-volume series The Stormlight Archive. He was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series; 2009’s The Gathering Storm and 2010’s Towers of Midnight were followed by the final book in the series, A Memory of Light, in 2013. He wrote four books in his middle-grade Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series. 2013 brought two young adult novels, The Rithmatist (2014 AML YA Speculative Award) and Steelheart. He owns the AML record for “Honorable Mentions”, which he has been awarded four times. He has won five Whitney Awards and been a finalist five more times.

Becky Wallace. The Storyspinner. Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster.

“Drama and danger abound in this fantasy realm where dukes play a game for the throne, magical warriors race to find the missing heir, and romance blossoms where it is least expected. In a world where dukes plot their way to the throne, a Performer’s life can get tricky. And in Johanna Von Arlo’s case, it can be fatal. Expelled from her troupe after her father’s death, Johanna is forced to work for the handsome Lord Rafael DeSilva. Too bad they don’t get along. But while Johanna’s father’s death was deemed an accident, the Keepers aren’t so sure. The Keepers, a race of people with magical abilities, are on a quest to find the princess—the same princess who is supposed to be dead and whose throne the dukes are fighting over. But they aren’t the only ones looking for her. And in the wake of their search, murdered girls keep turning up—girls who look exactly like the princess, and exactly like Johanna. Johanna finds herself caught up in political machinations for the throne, threats on her life, and an unexpected romance that could change everything.”

In second grade, Becky Wallace had to sit in the corner because she refused to write anything except princess stories and fairy tales (and because she talked too much). Her time in isolation gave her plenty of opportunities to dream up the fantasy worlds she’s been dabbling with ever since. She was lucky enough to find her own real-life Prince Charming. They have four munchkins and live in happy little town near Houston, Texas.

Natalie Whipple.  Fish Out of Water. Hot Key Books.

“Mika Arlington was supposed to spend the summer after her junior year shadowing her marine biologist parents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but when her estranged grandmother randomly shows up on the doorstep one day, those plans are derailed. Because Grandma Betty isn’t here to play nice—she is cranky, intolerant of Mika’s mixed-race-couple parents, and oh yeah she has Alzheimer’s and is out of money.  While Mika’s family would rather not deal with Grandma Betty, they don’t have much choice. And despite Mika’s protests, she is roped into caring for a person that seems impossible to have compassion for. And if that wasn’t hard enough, Mika must train the new guy at her pet shop job who wants to be anywhere else, and help a friend through her own family crisis. Something’s gotta a give, but whichever ball Mika drops means losing someone she loves. Not exactly a recipe for Best Summer Ever—or is it?”

Natalie Whipple grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU, with a minor in editing. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook. She is the author of the Transparent series, House of Ivy & Sorrow, the I’m A Ninja series, and My Little Brony (under K.M. Hayes).


Middle Grade Novel


Christine Hayes. Mothman’s Curse. Roaring Brook Press/MacMillan.  Illustrated by James K. Hindle.

“When Josie and her brothers uncover a haunted camera, the Mothman legend becomes a terrifying reality that threatens their entire town in this spooky and action-filled novel. Josie may live in the most haunted town in America, but the only strange thing she ever sees is the parade of oddball customers that comes through her family’s auction house each week. But when she and her brothers discover a Polaroid camera that prints pictures of the ghost of local recluse John Goodrich, they are drawn into a mystery dating back over a hundred years. A desperate spirit, cursed jewelry, natural disasters, and the horrible specter of Mothman all weave in and out of the puzzle that Josie must solve to break the curse and save her own life.”

Christine Hayes grew up loving stories about the creatures that curl your toes, and the legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. She lives in Utah with her family, her dog Chewie, and a collection of vintage finds that hopefully are not cursed.

Jennifer A. Nielsen. A Night Divided. Scholastic. 

“A stunning thriller about a girl who must escape to freedom after the Berlin Wall divides her family between east and west. With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family divided overnight. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, to think forbidden thoughts of freedom, yet she can’t help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city. But one day, while on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Then, when she receives a mysterious drawing, Gerta puts two and two together and concludes that her father wants Gerta and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?”

Jennifer A. Nielsen was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. Jennifer’s debut book was Elliot and the Goblin War (2010). That series became known as The Underworld Chronicles. The next series she released was The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with The False Prince (2012). She wrote the sixth book of the Infinity Ring series, Behind Enemy Lines (2013). Her current series is Mark of the Thief, beginning in 2016.

J. Scott Savage. Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention. Shadow Mountain. 

“Trenton Colman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and invention is a curse word. Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, whose father died in an explosion an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity. Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlikely anything they ve ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on and quite possibly their very lives.”

J Scott Savage is the author of the Harper Collins Case File 13 series. Zombie Kid, the first book in the series, was a starred Kirkus review, Junior Library Guild selection, Amazon book of the month, and Barnes & Noble select book. He is also the author of the Farworld series, the Shandra Covington mystery series, The Fourth Nephite, and Dark Memories, which won a 2013 Whitney award for adult speculative fiction.

Krista Van Dolzer. The Sound of Life and Everything. Putnam/Penguin. 

“Twelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin back to life from blood on his dog tags, Ella Mae is skeptical—until he steps out of a bio-pod right before her eyes. But the boy is not her cousin—he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and despised. When her aunt refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae and her Mama take him home instead. Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches Takuma English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when his memories start to resurface, Ella Mae learns some shocking truths about her own family and more importantly, what it means to love.”

Krista Van Dolzer is a stay-at-home mom by day and a children’s author by naptime. She holds degrees in Mathematics Education and Economics from Brigham Young University. She enjoys watching college football and researching her ancestors. This is her first book, and her second, Don’t Vote For Me, was also published in 2015. Krista lives with her husband and three kids in Mesquite, Nevada.

Jen White. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave. Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan.

“After their mother’s recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven’t seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station. Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations. When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.”

Jen White has a degree in English teaching and also earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in writing for children and young adults. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is her debut novel and was born from the real experience of Jen being accidentally forgotten at a gas station with her younger sister and cousin.  Jen currently tries not to boss around her five children and husband in San Clemente, California.

About the Awards

The AML Awards have been presented annually since 1977. You can see the list of past awards here.  Besides the main categories, there are also the Smith–Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters and the Lifetime Achievement Award.

I am the Awards Committee chair this year, which means I picked the judges, a mixture of authors, scholars, and reviewers, who at least during the judging process remain anonymous. The judges and I worked together to come up with long lists of potential finalists, but I am not involved in any of the decisions on finalists and winners. Works “by, for, or about Mormons” were considered. Authors/creators who are non-Mormon or ex-Mormon are considered if their works deal with Mormonism. Many of the judges created their own panel of assistant judges who shifted through the many applicable works. Then the judges and their panels chose the finalists. Those same judges/panels will pick the final awards this month.

There was previously an established AML practice that an author/creator could not be awarded in the same category two years in a row. That practice was discontinued this year.

Congratulations to all of the finalists!


2 Thoughts on “2015 AML Awards Finalists #3: Young Adult and Middle Grade Novel

  1. Andrew Hall on February 3, 2016 at 10:24 am said:

    There are three debut authors on each list, Alameda, Maetani, and Wallace on Young Adult list, and Hayes, Van Dolzer, and White on the Middle Grade list.
    Watching the YA judges debate which books to pick, I saw that Martine Leavitt’s “Calvin” and Dan Wells’ “The Devil’s Only Friend” were very close in the running. I did not get an inside view on the MG debate.

  2. What an honor! Thank you for including THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING.

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