2010 Finalists: Fantasy & Science Fiction (Young Adult)

Brain Jack
by Brian Falkner
Random House Children’s Books
Nominated by: Hallie Tibbetts

When Sam Wilson hacks into the computer system of one of America’s largest companies, he has no idea that his actions will bring about, in the words of The Washington Post, a “National Disaster.” Or, for that matter, that he will get caught. An action-adventure containing shades of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and Doctor Who, Brain Jack delivers a fast-paced, white-knuckled, hugely entertaining thrill ride that celebrates technology while raising questions about the ramifications of our dependence on it. —Leila Roy

Guardian of the Dead
by Karen Healey
Little, Brown
Nominated by: Alvina

Attending a boarding school in New Zealand while her parents travel the world, Ellie’s days are filled with the usual litany of humdrum events: hanging out with her best friend Kevin, honing her Tae Kwon Do skills, studying Classics, daydreaming over the mysterious loner Mark. Then suddenly everything changes when an unusual woman takes an unhealthy interest in Kevin and an encounter with Mark awakens a magic Ellie never knew she possessed. Expertly weaving together Maori and Greek mythologies into a complex and beautiful web, Guardian of the Dead is a perfectly paced, gritty exploration of the power of one average, opinionated and loyal girl’s belief to change the very shape and fabric of the magical world around her. —Angie Thompson

Plain Kate
by Erin Bow
Arthur A Levine
Nominated by: James Bow

Katerina–Plain Kate–is already a woodworking prodigy when her father dies, but without funds to purchase an apprenticeship of her own, she’s out on the street with little more than her cat, Taggle. She seeks help from Linay, a ghostlike stranger who offers gifts both practical and magical in exchange for Plain Kate’s shadow. One of those gifts is a voice for the indelible Taggle, whose spot-on cat commentary alternately provides insight into and comic relief from the grim happenings. When Plain Kate’s new friend Drina tries to use magic to help Plain Kate get her shadow back, the magic that’s been creeping along behind them takes an evil shape. Plain Kate’s spare, lyric prose combines with a very dark plot to create a rare tale of friendship and love influenced by Russian and Eastern European folklore that’s hard to put down. —Hallie Tibbetts

by Stephen Wallenfels
Nominated by: Sheila Ruth

Ask any teen if most adults are unfair or downright cruel and the chorus of “So true!” will be thundering. Such kids should rejoice at Pod: the threat to the kids in this book, if not the world, aren’t simply alien invaders but the human neighbors who so quickly turn vicious and animalistic to protect their own hides. Pod is science-fiction at its best: besides raising the reader’s heartbeat with action and thrills, it raises questions about humanity. —Steve Berman

Rot & Ruin
by Jonathan Maberry
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: Kristie Winks

Benny Imura has hated his older brother Tom since the night he abandoned their mother to the zombies. But now, with no other jobs willing to take him on, he must become his brother’s apprentice as a zombie killer or starve. But not all is as it seems to be in the great Rot and Ruin, as Benny soon discovers. Part dystopian, part action-adventure apocalypse tale, but most important, a tale about the relationship between two brothers. It’s a zombie book but one with serious heart in a surprisingly complex and heartwarming tale. It is a story that makes you think of who the real monsters are and gives more than zombies something to chew on. —Heather Zundel

Ship Breaker
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown
Nominated by: Trisha

Scavenging and recycling, Nailer and his crew live on the edge of the Gulf Coast, making do with what’s been tossed on the heap by those with wealth and ease. Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut YA novel describes with sickening detail the broken world of the ship-breaker where earning enough food to survive means having a small, tough body and an unbreakable will to survive. Bacigalupi’s masterful worldbuilding traps us within the claustrophobic confines of Nailer’s desperation where the present is filled with the dead hulks of oil tankers going nowhere, while on the horizon, the white-sailed clipper ships move fast into the future — a future Nailer will never have, unless he leaps on an unexpected opportunity and holds on with both hands. An unflinching, fast-paced novel where even the good guys nearly drown and bleed with all the rest, Ship Breaker explores hard choices and hard love, and wrestling for a chance at a better world. —Tanita Davis

Wager, The
by Donna Jo Napoli
Henry Holt
Nominated by: Margo Tanenbaum

Wealthy Sicilian nobleman Don Giovanni finds himself homeless and poor after his fortune and estate are wiped out in a tidal wave. The devil steps in to tempt him with a magical purse that provides unlimited money and a bet: Don Giovanni can keep the purse if he can go three years, three months, and three days without bathing, but if he bathes during that time, his soul belongs to the devil. Going without bathing for so long is even worse than it sounds, and horrific descriptions of pus, sores, vomit and parasites contrast with the lush imagery of the island of Sicily and the varied cultures inhabiting it. The suspense of wondering whether Don Giovanni will make it is increased by the devil’s attempts to win by trickery. The external physical transformation of Don Giovanni is matched by a corresponding but opposite internal transformation, making this fairy-tale retelling a beautiful story of redemption. —Sheila Ruth