Whitney Finalists 2012: Initial Thoughts

In case you haven’t heard, the finalists for the 2012 Whitney Awards were announced last Friday. Over at Segullah, Emily has already posted some of her thoughts about the finalists, so I thought I’d post a few of my initial thoughts and impressions here. Hopefully I’ll follow this up with another post or two as I read finalists, and probably write a post reflecting on the contest after the winners are announced. I’ve been aware of the Whitneys for a few years and have read quite a few of the finalists and winners from earlier years, but I only started actively reading and voting last year. It seems like every year I don’t get around to reading much LDS fiction until the Whitneys are announced. I tend to do the same thing with the Academy Awards; it often takes me a year or two to get through the nominees and winners after the awards ceremony. After spending the first three months of last year binging on LDS literature I wondered if I should revise my strategy and read more throughout the year, but with nearly 400 books by LDS author being published each year it just doesn’t seem possible to anticipate what the finalists will be. I also found that it was easier to compare finalists with each other when all of them had been read recently rather than trying to compare a freshly-read book with my recollections from six months ago.

One of the most obvious changes to this year’s field of nominees is the division of Novel of the Year into Best Adult Novel and Best Youth Novel. I like this change; while I read some YA fiction, youth fiction is not my preferred genre and not having to read any of it will streamline my reading process. I did enjoy the General Youth Fiction books that I read last year, but would rather concentrate my reading on adult fiction. Last year I didn’t read the speculative books from either category (again, not my preferred genre) and wasn’t able to vote on Novel of the Year. I hope to be able to vote on it this year, at least for the adult fiction.

General Fiction: I’m much more excited about this year’s General Fiction nominees than I was last year. The field is more varied as far as topic and publisher goes and seems to have avoided the inspirational fiction takeover that many people feared was happening after last year’s finalists were announced. Last year I thought it might be best to declare no winner in the general fiction category but this year’s nominees have redeemed by faith in the ability of LDS writers to produce thoughtful, nuanced fiction about contemporary life. We’ll see how I feel after I read them.

Historical: I am happy to see a variety of writing styles, publishers, and subjects in this category as well. I thought it was interesting that Carla Kelly’s most recent book was placed in historical rather than romance, because I have read it and found it similar to Borrowed Light, which won the award for romance last year. I have not yet read the other four books in the category yet, but Kelly is a strong contender. We may have to have some kind of arm wrestling contest between her and James Goldberg to determine the winner.

Romance: Melanie Jacobson has two finalists again, although I thought Twitterpated was one of her weakest books yet. I’m in the middle of Smart Move and really enjoying it, so I think she has a fighting chance this year. She is one of my favorite new LDS authors (as I wrote about in this post). Edenbrooke felt a little flat to me and I have yet to read the other two finalists.

Mystery/Suspense: This category always feels like the weakest to me. First of all, there are many types of mystery or suspense books out there and the finalists tend to be all over the map. Last year I had a hard time judging when I had to compare two romantic suspense books, a conspiracy thriller, a nationally published book that was part of a series of historical mysteries, and a military thriller that was also part of a series. This year in addition to the usual suspects we do get two of Josi Kilpack’s culinary mysteries, and I’ve been looking forward to reading them. I’ve wanted to read them for years and for some reason they’ve been shoved to the bottom of the pile. This is when reading for the Whitneys is good because it forces me to read stuff I’ve been meaning to get to.

Speculative: As I mentioned, speculative fiction is not my favorite genre and I didn’t read any of it last year. So I don’t have a lot to say about this category at the moment. Look for more comments in the future.

And of course there are always the books that didn’t get nominated. Many of the more well-known authors that have been finalists in the past didn’t make it this year: Dean Hughes (I thought his newest book wasn’t one of his best, actually), Carol Lynch Williams, Gerald Lund, Anne Perry, and Richard Paul Evans. Sometimes this can be a good thing when it provides an opportunity for newer or lesser-known authors to get more of an audience. However, it was disappointing not to see some newer authors not make it, like Courtney Miller Santo, Sarah Dunster, or Stephen Peck. Sometimes, however, I think the fact that a book doesn’t make it to the Whitney finalist list can benefit the author simply because the book still gets to have its merits discussed by its defenders among the reading faithful.

What surprised you about this year’s Whitney finalists? Didn’t surprise you? Are you reading and voting?

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18 Responses to Whitney Finalists 2012: Initial Thoughts

  1. Wm says:

    I know nothing about the General Fiction entries. Has anybody read any of the titles? I wish the nominations page included or linked to cover copy for the books (I’m too lazy to look all that stuff up myself).

    I have two follow-up thoughts about the lack of Ally Condie’s Reached (which I complained about after the nominations were announced):

    1. She won for Matched so perhaps it was easier to overlook the other two books.
    2. I have heard anecdotally that young readers in particular weren’t as wildly thrilled with Crossed and Reached as Matched. I think the entire trilogy is excellent, but am beginning to realize that a) that may be a minority opinion and b) the very things I like about it may be elements that other readers don’t respond to.

    • Jessie says:

      I actually don’t know a lot about the General Fiction entries either. I haven’t heard much buzz about them anywhere. I agree that it would be helpful to have some kind of link from the Whitney website to more information about each book, perhaps on the publisher’s site or somewhere.

      When books don’t make it into the finals I have often wondered whether they were even nominated; I think I’m still OK with not making all nominees public, but I still wonder sometimes whether bigger books don’t even make it into the nominee pool because everyone assumes someone else nominated. It’s also possible people kind of overlooked Reached because it is nationally published and because Condie has not been getting much press for being Mormon, and because it’s the third in the trilogy. Who knows? I liked the first two books but I’m still waiting to get Reached from the library.

      • Wm says:

        Here are the books I nominated (note that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’d give them an award, but that a. I read them and b. thought they deserved attention from the awards committee):

        Historical Fiction:

        The Five Books of Jesus
        by James Goldberg

        Youth Fiction – Speculative:

        Princess Academy: Palace of Stone
        by Shannon Hale (I don’t know why it was listed as middle grade)

        Romance:

        Midnight in Austenland
        by Shannon Hale

        Speculative Fiction:

        The Hollow City
        by Dan Wells

        Speculative:

        Partials
        by Dan Wells

        Mystery/Suspense:

        Millstone City
        by S.P. Bailey

        I’m very embarrassed that I didn’t nominate Reached, but then realized that I didn’t read it until just before the holidays and so forgot to nominate it. And I wasn’t able to read Byuck, Dispirited, The Lightning Tree or City of the Saints before the nomination period closed.

      • Andrew Hall says:

        General catagory:
        Ka Hancock, Dancing on Broken Glass. Nationally published debut novel. Family drama, with cancer and mental illness. Has gotten good reviews for the writing, and is very, very sad.
        Annette Lyon, Paige. One of the Newport Ladies quartet of books. Divorced woman makes a new start.
        Jason F. Wright, The 13th Day of Christmas. Christmas inspiriational.
        Tanya Parker Mills, A Night on Moon Hill. About a successful professor whose life is turned upside down by a dead body and a ten-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome who is thrust into her life. Reviews say it has high literary merit.
        Camron Wright, The Rent Collector. Inspiriational. A young mother struggles to survive by picking through garbage in Cambodia’s largest municipal dump, and eventually gets an education for her son. Fairly strong reviews.

  2. One comment about the placing of books in genre categories–the procedure now is to ask each nominee where he/she thinks the book best fits (this takes place when the book has received five reader nominations and is thus ready to advance to the judging round). I think this works very well overall–placing books can be a tricky thing, since some books sit astride genre lines (is it a romance with suspense elements or a suspense novel with romantic elements?).

    • Jessie says:

      I think this is a good idea. Last year Miss Delacourt Has Her Day was in historical and I really thought it should have been in Romance. Carla Kelly generally writes romance and I think her newest book is marketed as such, but I think it fits well in historical given the subject matter and the writing style.

    • Th. says:

      .

      Dang. I misunderstood this. When they asked me I thought it was just presorting. So I said what I thought they would decide rather than what I thought myself. Ah, well. Probably made no difference.

  3. Wm says:

    I say change it to a scale:

    Three kissyfaces!
    Two spaceships!
    1.5 magnifying glasses!

  4. I’m surprised that Sarah Dunster didn’t make it, too. I’m really enjoying The Lightning Tree. Also, I’ve heard nothing but good about Stephen Peck.

    • Jessie says:

      I have yet to read Dunster’s book (I feel like I say that about so many books) but I’ve only heard good things about it. When I did serve as a judge I was surprised by the finalists too; things I had rated really low were apparently favorites because they made it too the finals when other things I thought would make it didn’t. Opinions among the judges are varied too.

  5. Haha, I love it, William! We could also rate with: Angel Moronis (LDS content)
    and blushy-faced emoticons (content possibly offensive to some readers).

  6. …*I got mentioned in a comma series with Steven Peck* !

  7. May I request to have the planned Kelly/Goldberg arm wrestling match modified into an actual wrestling match with my two-year-old son fighting in my place?

    If Carla Kelly can take him, she deserves the Whitney and any other award!

    • Carla Kelly says:

      Oh, James, I never fight with two-year-olds. I don’t even try to reason with them, having raised five of my own. You’re on your own.

      Carla

  8. Rosalyn says:

    Jessie–I loved Edenbrooke (but then, I’m a long-time sucker for Regency romances). I also really like Jacobson, although I thought her entries last year were stronger.

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