We are pleased to announce the 2017 Association for Mormon Letters awards finalists in Middle Grade Novel and Young Adult Novel. The final awards will be announced and presented at the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference, held at Brigham Young University on March 23. The finalists and winners are chosen by juries of authors, academics, and critics. The finalist announcements include blurbs about each of the books and author biographies, adapted from the author and publisher websites.
Middle Grade Novel
Ann Dee Ellis. You May Already Be A Winner. Penguin.
Twelve-year-old Olivia Hales has a foolproof plan for winning a million dollars so that she and her little sister, Berkeley, can leave behind Sunny Pines Trailer Park. But first she has to: – Fix the swamp cooler and make dinner and put Berkeley to bed because her mom is too busy to do all that. – Write another letter to her dad even though he hasn’t written back yet. – Teach Berk the important stuff, like how to make chalk drawings, because they can’t afford day care and Olivia has to stay home from school to watch her. – Petition her oddball neighbors for a circus spectacular, because there needs to be something to look forward to at dumb-bum Sunny Pines. – Become a super-secret spy to impress her new friend Bart. – Enter a minimum of fourteen sweepstakes a day. Who knows? She may already be a winner! Olivia has thought of everything . . . except herself. Who will take care of her when she needs it? Luckily, somewhere deep down between her small intestine and stomach is a tiny voice reminding her that sometimes people can surprise you–and sometimes your family is right next door.
Ann Dee Ellis is the author of three young adult titles including This is What I Did (2007 AML Young Adult Award), Everything is Fine and The End or Something Like That (2014 AML Young Adult Honorable Mention). You May Already Be a Winner is her middle grade debut. Her books have received starred reviews and been featured on multiple lists. She teaches as an adjunct creative writing instructor at Brigham Young University and has taught at various writing conferences. She lives in the foothills of Utah and when she’s not writing, she’s hanging around with her husband and five energetic children.
Allison K. Hymas. Under Locker and Key. Alladin/Simon & Schuster.
Eleven-year-old Jeremy Wilderson teams up with his rival crime fighter to stop the stealing spree that’s wreaking havoc on Scottsville Middle School. Jeremy Wilderson is not a thief. In fact, he is his middle school’s one and only retrieval specialist. Confiscated cell phones, stolen lunch money—he’ll discretely retrieve it before the last bell rings. Business is good, and if it weren’t for the meddling of preteen private investigator Becca Mills, he’d be happier than a gym teacher on dodgeball day. But a new job shatters his comfortable lifestyle. Now, thanks to Jeremy, the master key to the schools’ lockers is in the hands of an aspiring crime kingpin who doesn’t exactly have Jeremy’s strong moral character. Soon not even combination locks can protect the students’ textbooks and jackets. Retrieving the key is too big a job for one crime fighter, and only one person wants the key returned as much as Jeremy does: Becca Mills. Lockers are being robbed, the teachers are looking for the culprit, and the only person Jeremy can turn to is the girl who most wants to see him in the principal’s office. Will Jeremy be able to trust Becca enough to get the key back in the right hands? Or could he end up in detention until the end of high school instead?
Allison K. Kymas was born in Provo, Utah, but raised in Virginia and Pennsylvania. She holds an MFA from Brigham Young University and currently live in Utah. Under Locker and Key is her debut novel.
Chad Morris and Shelly Brown. Mustaches for Maddie. Shadow Mountain
Twelve-year-old Maddie has a quirky sense of humor and loves making her classmates laugh by slapping on fake mustaches every chance she gets. Being funny gets her noticed by class queen Cassie, and things are looking up when Maddie is cast as Juliet in the school play. Maybe Juliet could wear a moustache? When Maddie starts tripping when she walks and her hand starts curling up at her side, her mom takes her to the doctor, who confirms Maddie has a brain tumor. In an instant, her world is turned upside down. Maddie doesn’t want anyone else to know. Especially Cassie, whose jealousy has turned to bullying. What about Maddie’s chance to play Juliet opposite the cutest boy in the sixth grade? What if the doctors can’t get the ugly tumor monster out of her brain? As Maddie’s surgery approaches, she wonders if her illness is giving her super powers because her imagination is bigger than ever, her courage is stronger than ever, and her compassion is about to be felt by more people than she ever imagined.
Chad Morris and Shelly Brown are the proud parents of four sons and one daughter, Maddie, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was nine. Chad, a teacher, is also the author of the Cragbridge Hall series (The Inventor’s Secret, The Avatar Battle, and The Impossible Race). Books in this series won the Utah Book award and the Silver Foreword INDIES award for Juvenile fiction.
Ellie Terry. Forget Me Not. Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
A girl with Tourette syndrome starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks in this debut middle-grade novel in verse. Calliope June has Tourette syndrome. Sometimes she can’t control the noises that come out of her mouth, or even her body language. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But soon the kids in her class realize she’s different. Only her neighbor, who is also the class president, sees her as she truly is—a quirky kid, and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public? As Callie navigates school, she must also face her mother’s new relationship and the fact that she might be moving again—just as she’s starting to make friends and finally accept her differences.
Ellie Terry grew up in South Dakota, Arizona, and Nevada as the second of eight children. She has been writing poems and stories since she was ten years old. In 2014 she was a recipient of the Nikki Grimes Poetic Techniques Merit Scholarship. Forget Me Not is her debut middle-grade novel. She currently lives in the desert of southern Utah with her husband and three creative kiddos.
Elaine Vickers. Paper Chains. HarperCollins
Katie and Ana are the kind of friends who share everything with each other. But there are some things you can’t even share with your best friend. Katie has always known she was adopted, but recently she’s been wondering about her birth parents and her birthplace. She worries that saying this out loud—even to her best friend—could mess up the perfect family she has now. Ana’s family has been falling apart ever since her dad left, and it’s up to her to hold it together. But Ana fears no matter how hard she tries, her family may never be whole again. At a time when they need each other the most, the links between the girls are beginning to break. Before they lose each other, they must work through the tangles of secrets to the shining truth underneath: friendship, just like family, is worth fighting for.
Elaine Vickers lives with her husband and three kids in southern Utah, where she writes books and teaches chemistry at Southern Utah University. She always wanted to be a writer and a teacher, except when she wanted to be an architect, an artist, a pediatrician, a judge, or a famous actress. Her two published middle grade novels are Like Magic and Paper Chains.
Young Adult Novel
McKell George. Speak Easy, Speak Love. Greenwillow/HarperCollins
Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling 1920s summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer. Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.
McKelle George is a reader, writer of clumsy rebels, perpetual doodler, and associate librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library. She has a B.S. in English/Creative Writing from Brigham Young University, and has had articles published with The Friend magazine and Fight the New Drug. She mentors with Salt Lake Teen Writes and plays judge for the Poetry Out Loud teen competitions. Speak Easy, Speak Love is her debut novel.
Katie A. Nelson. The Duke of Bannerman Prep. Sky Pony Press
Tanner McKay is at Bannerman Prep for only one reason: the elite school recruited him after he brought his public school’s debate team to victory last year. Bannerman wants a championship win. Debate is Tanner’s life—his ticket out of his poor-as-dirt life and family drama, straight to a scholarship to Stanford and the start of a new, better future. But when he’s paired with the Duke, his plans for an easy ride seem as if they’ve hit the rails. The Duke is the quintessential playboy, beloved by everyone for his laissez-faire attitude, crazy parties, and seemingly effortless favors. And a total no-show when it comes to putting in the work to win. But as Tanner gets sucked into the Duke’s flashy world, the thrill of the high life and the adrenaline of existing on the edge becomes addictive. A small favor here and there seems like nothing in exchange for getting everything he ever dreamed of. But the Duke’s castle is built on shady, shaky secrets, and the walls are about to topple down. A contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby.
Katie A. Nelson has always loved words and stories. Formerly a high school English and Debate teacher, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, four children, and hyperactive dog. The Duke of Bannerman Prep is her debut novel.
Caitlin Sangster. Last Star Burning. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster
Sev is branded with the mark of a criminal—a star burned into her hand. That’s the penalty for being the daughter of the woman who betrayed their entire nation. Now her mother’s body is displayed above Traitor’s Arch, kept in a paralyzed half sleep by the same plague that destroyed the rest of the world. And as further punishment, Sev is forced to do hard labor to prove that she’s more valuable alive than dead. When the government blames Sev for a horrific bombing, she must escape the city or face the chopping block. Unimaginable dangers lurk outside the city walls, and Sev’s only hope of survival lies with the most unlikely person—Howl, the chairman’s son. Though he promises to lead her to safety, Howl has secrets, and Sev can’t help but wonder if he knows more about her past—and her mother’s crimes—than he lets on. But in a hostile world, trust is a luxury. Even when Sev’s life and the lives of everyone she loves may hang in the balance. A dystopian fantasy set in a society reminiscent of Maoist China.
Caitlin Sangster grew up in the back woods of California and would rather go hiking, running, swimming, or general outdoorsing than just about anything else. If there aren’t any mountains, it doesn’t count as a real place. At eighteen, she moved to XinJiang, and at twenty-one it was Taiwan. She did eventually buckle down and graduate from Brigham Young University with a BA in Asian Studies and is now that person you avoid at parties because she’ll probably start talking about Shang dynasty oracle bones. She currently lives in Utah with her husband and four children. Last Star Burning is her debut novel.
Kiersten White. Now I Rise. The Conquer’s Saga #2. Delacorte
She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her. What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him? An alternative history novel.
Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of And I Darken, the Paranormalcy trilogy, the Mind Games series, Illusions of Fate, The Chaos of Stars, In the Shadows with artist Jim Di Bartolo, and Beanstalker and Other Hilarious Scarytales, her first novel for younger readers. She has one tall husband and three small children and lives near the ocean, where her life is perfectly normal. This is the third time she has been a finalist for an AML Young Adult Novel Award.
Jeff Zentner. Goodbye Days. Random House
One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts. The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions. Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend. Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?
Jeff Zentner lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others. His debut novel, The Serpent King was a New York Times Notable Book, was awarded a Printz Honor Prize and the William C. Morris Award for debut novel for teens by the American Library Association. It was also the 2016 AML Young Adult Novel Award winner. Zentner is an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Tennessee.