I promised a more lengthy post about the finalists, so here's a list of 'em, along with links to my reviews:
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins:
Étienne and Anna are real people, complete with strengths, flaws and fears. They make mistakes and sometimes they make bad choices. But it’s a joy to read about their journey toward each other, and I challenge you to read their Christmas Break exchange without falling in love. Whether it’s with one or both of them, or whether it’s with the idea of them falling in love, you’ll fall in love. It’s just plain adorable. So adorable that I’ve been caught blissfully hugging the book on more than one occasion. Literally.
Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys:
A coming-of-age tale set in a desolate, violent, unpredictable environment. Lina, her family and the rest of the deportees attempt to hold onto hope and to retain their humanity while living in conditions no one should ever have to live in, while being forced to make choices no one should ever have to make—all because they were related to the wrong person, because they said the wrong thing, because they caught the wrong eye, because they smiled at the wrong moment. It’s beautifully written, with regular, warm glimpses into Lina’s past that both provide needed respites from her present and emphasize the horrors of it.
Bunheads, by Sophie Flack:
Bunheads works as a romance, as a sports drama, and as a behind-the-scenes look into the ballet world, but it's the second two that work best. The nitty-gritty details—about practice, competition, lifestyle, what goes on in the wings, and on stage—are fascinating.
Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S. King:
Like the vast majority of books that appeal to me, Everybody Sees the Ants has a little bit of everything: Comedy, tragedy, sarcasm, frank truth, despair, joy, fantasy, realism, romance, violence, friendship and family. In it, King creates—though his voice is so believable that it feels like a capture, not a creation—a vivid, rich chronicle of a life-altering time for one guy: the internal, the external and his effect on other people.
Frost, by Marianna Baer:
References to du Maurier aside—I wouldn’t even label it a retelling—Frost is a slow-building, atmospheric, spooktastic read. While the claustrophobic feel doesn’t affect Leena in the slightest, I found it almost physically oppressive at times—so much so that it was sometimes easier to identify with Celeste, even though, in the eyes of our narrator, she’s often the antagonist. Which is a really cool twist, and speaks to the quality of the voice and the storytelling.
Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen:
Like Crutcher, Cohen writes about how harnessing your own body can help you harness your own mind. When Danny and Kurt focus on the physical, they are (usually) able to leave the rest of the world behind, and they both find that hitting personal goals is far more fulfilling than a simple win for the school team.
Stupid Fast, by Geoff Herbach:
15-year-old Felton Reinstein's body goes from zero to sixty, and now the football team wants him to join up and play against a guy who looks like he could literally knock his head off. Also, his brother is a musical genius, his mother is a disaster, and he's in love with a girl who might think he's incapable of speech. Fresh, original, energetic and believable voice. Laugh-out-loud funny.
I'd have written more, but you know: I've got a puzzle to work on.