CYBILS 2023 Speculative Fiction Finalists


Conjure Island
Eden Royce
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Amber

Delphinia Baker is happy with her life, living with her grandmother and her dad who is deployed, moving often from military base to military base, but when her grandmother falls ill, Del finds herself in a place she never thought she’d be – at a magic school run by her great-grandmother. Del’s great-grandmother’s magic is based in the Gullah culture, and part of the story revolves around Del learning about this family connection and why she hasn’t been a part of this life before now. There is also a mystery that needs to be solved that’s part of the fun of this book. This not to be missed story is fast paced and has well developed characters to cheer for and wonder about.

Debbie Tanner, The Book Search

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom
Nina Varela
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Lucy K

Starting middle school in a new state is bad enough for any introvert – but what really has Juniper on edge is the recurrent dream she keeps having, set in an ancient-looking temple where a girl her own age turns to ivory. After the fall dance ends in horrible embarrassment, Juniper draws a picture of the girl and wishes she were there…and suddenly, she is! Galatea needs Juniper’s help to rescue her floating island in a world reminiscent of ancient Greece. She might not know much about modern-day Florida (suddenly swarming with supernatural beasts), but her people-sense allows Juniper to reach out to potential new friends. Amid the chases, swordplay, and hilariously awkward moments, Juniper and Galatea’s relationship develops into a sweet and understated first romance, even as they uncover an important truth behind myths in Galatea’s world.

Katy Kramp, A Library Mama

The Bellwoods Game
Celia Krampien
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Terry Doherty

A ghost waits in the woods outside Bailee’s school to play its yearly game, shrouded in secrecy and rooted in a tragic death back in the 1980s…and this Halloween it’s Bailee’s turn to try to win, changing her outcast status at school and helping her family past the hard time they’ve been having. In the woods she and the other players find that the game is more terrifying than they’d imagined, and surviving becomes more important than winning against the creepy power that haunts Bellwoods. And if the kids lose, it’s lights out for the whole town. Middle school problems meet magical horror in this fast-paced, nail-biting story that has tricks, treats, and scares enough to fill any Halloween sack!

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Library

The Demon Sword Asperides
Sarah Jean Horwitz
Algonquin Young Readers
Nominated by: Alexander Rakitzis

Reading The Demon Sword Asperides, I found myself rooting for the goals of so many of the characters: Asperides, his wielder Nack, Therin the prophet, and even the minor characters. Since their ambitions are mutually exclusive, this ratcheted the tension of this fast-moving adventure even higher. The characters navigate tough themes such as growing past parental expectations and disappointments, redeeming mistakes made through malice, carelessness, or ignorance, and achieving forgiveness and trust for friends who also have made mistakes (did I mention the necromancer?). These themes play out among exciting adventures in a colorfully realized world with rich, complex characters on all sides, making this rich and engrossing story a delight to read that keeps resonating afterwards.

Beth Micham, Library Chicken

The Grace of Wild Things
Heather Fawcett
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: marsenault13

Grace flees from her orphanage after several failed placements, determined to apprentice to a witch since she blames uncontrollable magic for these failures. With such a determined and imaginative protagonist it’s no wonder this book is spilling over with danger, friendship, quests, spells, and growth. Learning spells, confronting witches, and still managing all the pitfalls of friendships mean that Grace needs all her wits to handle challenges that the orphanage never prepared her for. If you’ve read Anne of Green Gables you have the extra pleasure of uncovering Easter eggs. And if you haven’t, you might have so much fun here that you will want to.

Beth Micham, Library Chicken

The House of the Lost on the Cape
Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Yukiko Saito, Avery Fischer Udagawa (Translator)
Nominated by: Charlotte

Taking place just after the devastating Japanese tsunami of 2011, this found family novel brings together three characters: an orphaned girl, a woman who has fled an abusive relationship and an old grandmother who has no family left. Together, this family lives in an abandoned house on a cape, but there they find a magical danger that has been unleashed by the tsunami. They must work with their community, and the magical beings of the land and ocean to save their new home. Tackling topics of post-traumatic mutism, abusive relationships, and more, this novel still feels light and magical as the reader is taken away to a real Japanese setting with beautiful scenery. There may be moments of danger, but with the help of magical beings from Japanese lore the danger can be resolved without more harm coming to the village. A must read for fans of disasters, magical creatures, found families, and Studio Ghibli films.

Kristen Harvey, Mrs. Harvey’s Library

The Rhythm of Time
Questlove and S. A. Cosby
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Katy K.

Rap music, genius inventions, and time travel make for a truly fun combination in this fast-paced time travel adventure! All Rahim wanted was a cell phone that would let him listen to 20th century rap music. But the one his brilliant friend Kasia makes for him takes that too far–it sends him back in time to 1997. Rahim gets to sneak out with his dad to a rap concert and take down a bully, while Kasia is busy outwitting the feds, who are after her invention back home. But Rahim’s trip to the past messes up the timeline, and when he comes home wonderfully absurd temporal chaos is everywhere. Stress and excitement is beautifully balanced with friendship, family, and humor.

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Library


Divine Rivals: A Novel (Letters of Enchantment Book 1)
Rebecca Ross
Wednesday Books
Nominated by: Tamara S

Humans are collateral damage in a fight between the gods in Rebecca Ross’ Divine Rivals, a book that masterfully weaves unique mythology and magic with a very real look at war, loss, first love, and the power of the written word. Ross is incredibly skilled at setting a scene and injecting subtle, clever touches of humor and heart throughout the text. I loved the magical letters sent back and forth between Iris and Roman, enjoyed their wit and banter, felt genuine tension during all the war scenes, and got lost in the vulnerable, angsty atmosphere of this book. Divine Rivals achieves an impressive balance of relatable characters and situations in a fantasy world and has become one of my most recommended books for fellow readers of young adult speculative fiction.

Stacey Nerdin

Fault Lines
Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Running Press Kids
Nominated by: Anne-Marie Strohman

Seventeen-year-old Vivian, dubbed “Ice Queen,” feels alone and uncertain in her rural town. Her beloved aunt passed four months prior, the one place she finds solace-her treehouse-is destroyed by fracking, and she begins noticing a strange ability to sense energy through nature. Driven by anger at the gas company for destroying her town and land, she begins to fight. Then comes Dex, a kid whose mom just got a new job at the gas company-a job that could finally raise them a hair out of poverty. A job that can keep them going until Dex can be the caretaker after he goes to the army and college. Dex is focused and driven, but he is also struggling to find his place … and then he meets Viv. A slow-burn romance ensues. One that battles socio-economical issues, gender expectations, and environmental ethical dilemmas. Nora Shalaway Carpenter has woven a story about finding your power, tackling topics and characters rarely seen in the young adult category. You will come out of this story a better person, knowing that no issue is black and white and that listening to others, their perspectives and their histories, can help us all understand each other and make change together. This book is most powerful for young readers who are feeling hopeless with the devastation around them (climate change, environmental issues, injustice) and can give them a sense of hope that even small actions can make a difference.

Alexis Ennis, Mrs. Book Dragon

Lyssa Mia Smith
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: ChristaS

Moulin Rouge fans, get ready to be transported to a magical island in Prohibition-era New York. Revelle is the story of Luxe Revelle, the star of her family’s show and the only one who can save her family from losing all they know. Prohibition has hit this island hard and when Dewey Charmant, the son of the wealthiest family on the island with the only successful bootlegging enterprise, offers up a deal, Luxe can’t refuse. Pose as his girl to help him become mayor in exchange for everything her family needs? Done. Until she accidentally meets Jamison. Jamison Port is an orphan searching for what happened to his family and the island of Charmant feels like home. Secrets. Twists and turns. Forbidden romance. Magic. All come to a head in a finale that will keep you turning pages faster than you can read. Lyssa Mia Smith has created an exhilarating magical world with a tragic love story, beautiful setting, and riveting characters. Readers will be dazzled by this standalone novel.

Alexis Ennis, Mrs. Book Dragon

The Half-Life of Love
Brianna Bourne
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: Isla K.

Flint Larsen has 41 days, 9 hours, and 42 minutes to live. In this society, set in the not-so-distant future, people seizure when they’ve reached the halfway point of their lives. Flint’s occurred when he was eight. He’s spent most of his life quietly waiting to die, but when he meets September Harrington, for the first time in a long time, he wants to live.

This YA sci-fi romance will have readers considering the meaningfulness of their own lives and how short life can be, but also fighting for what’s important while we’re here. I loved both of the main characters and what they were each struggling with throughout the book. This one will stay with you for a while.

Amanda Hunt, TheNextGenLibrarian

The Isles of the Gods
Amie Kaufman
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publisher/ Author Submission

A sentinel goddess who requires a sacrifice to continue protecting her people, a sleeping god who will awaken with a sacrifice from his, and a host of characters racing to prevent a war that will tear the world apart. This is Isles of the Gods: a sweeping fantasy that takes the reader on a clandestine high-seas adventure as a group of strangers band together to make it to their god/goddess in time. More than just a fun adventure, it’s a beautifully written story filled with rich world-building, unique magic, and a diverse cast of characters that fly off the page and suck you in in equal measure. Told from multiple points of view, the story delves into the motivations, the reluctance, and the hearts of each character with surprising and well-developed nuance. Isles of the Gods is an incredibly satisfying read that leaves you excited to see what comes next!

Liz Garn, Elizabeth Garn

The Q
Amy Tintera
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Deborah Zeman

Amy Tintera weaves a dystopian thriller with a touch of Romeo and Juliet type star-crossed lovers and territorial feuds with nods to the current day pandemic in a nonstop race to beat the clock. The Q is a post-apocalyptic quarantine zone where Austin, Texas once was. Its residents are walled off from the rest of society as they have been exposed to a deadly virus. Two competing families are in a bitter and often deadly territory war to keep control of the Q. When we first meet Lennon Pierce, the son of a US presidential candidate, he is kidnapped and forced to jump out of the plane and into the Q. He has hours to try and make his way to the only exits before he is considered too contaminated to ever leave, but he landed on the side farthest away from his only exit. While trying to escape, he learns about what life is really like inside the Q. This is a high-octane race against the clock where secrets are revealed, teens fall in love, and there are lots of crashes, explosions, and cold-blooded terror to keep teens reading. While being speculative fiction, it is so relatable to much of today’s current politics and social structures.

Karen Jensen, Teen Librarian Toolbox

Threads That Bind
Kika Hatzopoulou
Nominated by: MelissaB

In the half-sunken city of Alane, gangs rule the streets and the descendants of the Greek gods are everywhere, wielding their inherited power. Io is the youngest of the Ora sisters, descended from the Fates, and she uses her magic to make a living as a private investigator. When she’s hired by the most powerful woman in town she soon finds herself investigating a series of impossible murders. Threads that Bind is a genre-bending novel: part urban fantasy, part detective fiction, part gang warfare. It’s full of rich and detailed world-building that keeps the reader engaged as they try to put together the pieces of the mystery in between non-stop action and suspense. The romance is also a nice thread that runs throughout. It’s a slow burn between Io and her “fated” soulmate, but it gives their characters some additional depth without overshadowing the murders at the center of the story. While there have been a lot of stories inspired by the Greek gods, Threads the Bind offers a truly unique and refreshing spin on the genre for readers to get wrapped up in.

Christa Seeley, Christa’s Books