So, the Cybils nomination period runs until October 15th—have you thrown your favorites into the ring?—but getting started sooner is better when you're a first-round reader.
SO. I read four nominees this weekend.
Girls Like Us, by Gail Giles
Oh, wow. So good. Two "Speddies" (girls in Special Ed)—who, you may have noticed, don't usually get center stage, regardless of age range, genre, or format—graduate high school and are set up in an apartment together, living on their own for the first time. They have entirely different voices—and it's just a flat-out great story of two very different girls learning to live together, trust one another, and become each other's family. These girls aren't romanticized, aren't infantilized, aren't represented by insulting tropes, they are individual people with well-rounded, distinct personalities, and while they certainly change the lives of those around them, they also have a lot to learn from each other.
Trigger warning for not one, BUT TWO sexual assaults. I found the second one upsetting enough that I had to take a break and walk around for a while to clear my head.
Going Over, by Beth Kephart
Young love and graffiti in 1983 Berlin. Another book with alternating narrators—in this case, a boy in East Germany and a girl in West Germany—and, oddly enough, another book that features a sexual assault. Ag. TWO BOOKS IN A ROW.
Anyway, it's got a great sense of place and time, and Kephart works in loads of stories about people who attempted (some who succeeded, some who did not) to get over the wall, and there's also a bibliography and an informative author's note. It's one of those odd books that snuck up on me—I didn't realize how invested I was in the characters and their story until it was over, and I was crying.
We Were Liars, by e. lockhart
There was so much chatter about this one that I was hoping to put it off for longer—the drawback, for me, of reading books with a SECRET TWIST (in that the TWIST ITSELF is secret, but the existence of said twist is NOT) is that it's very DISTRACTING. As I read, my brain is constantly trying to FIGURE IT OUT, and so I'm never able to entirely let go and fully immerse myself in the world or the characters.
Happily, in We Were Liars, guessing the twist early on (which I did, because Guessing Twists Early is one of my Superpowers, which is, like, the MOST BORING AND ANNOYING SUPERPOWER EVER, but I digress) doesn't detract—the book doesn't hinge on the reader's surprise, and reading it whilst In The Know actually allowed me to appreciate how well-crafted the whole thing was.
Despite the dark storyline and the undercurrents of (and sometimes outright) ugliness on the part of various characters—as well as that always-uncomfortable experience of recognizing not-fun situations that you've seen play out in real life—it's a very PRETTY book. It's got a great rhythm, nice imagery, example after example of lovely phrases and sentences. I'm still undecided, though, about whether or not there's a core at the center of it all, or if I was actually supposed to finish the book feeling... empty.
Skink No Surrender, by Carl Hiassen
So. A girl takes off with a random dude she met on the internet; her concerned cousin teams up with a supposedly-dead former Florida governor to find her and bring her back. It's funny, fast-paced, totally enjoyable, includes loads of details about the wildlife of Florida... but I am totally at a loss as to what landed it on the National Book Award longlist. Like, it's GOOD, but I'm not seeing why it's a standout. Feel free to set me straight in the comments.