For the past two years, I’ve served as a first-round YA panelist in the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary (Cybils) Awards. Over the course of three months, the seven of us on said panel have a daunting task: to power through the almost two hundred nominations and winnow that list down to a shortlist of five to seven titles. Physically, mentally and emotionally, it’s an intense, all-consuming, exhausting process ... and one that I wouldn’t miss for the world.

As I said last year, part of the fun of the first round is in noticing the mini-trends that crop up in a year of YA fiction—some of them not-so-surprising (characters reading Catcher in the Rye; the embarrassment of public erections), and some truly, bizarrely random (dogs with sexually suggestive names; cheese-lovers). Last year, our literary game of Where’s Waldo? even inspired one of my co-panelists to create a Cybils Bingo card.

While 2011 was all about the amputations, this year we’re seeing lots of girls with scars* and kids with cancer**. Paul Griffin’s Burning Blue isn’t eligible this year—it was published just a few days too late to make the deadline—which is sad because A) it’s a great crime novel*** that B) incorporates BOTH of those elements. (Which, of course, would mean that it would have counted for at least TWO Cybils Bingo spaces.)

The mystery at the heart of Burning Blue is this: a beautiful, brilliant, popular, genuinely nice girl gets a faceful of acid from a sports bottle-wielding assailant. But no one got a look at Nicole Castro’s attacker, and with a suspect list that includes both everyone (because her various perfections are so jealousy-inducing) and no one (because she’s so nice), the police investigation stalls out. Enter Jameson “Jay” Navarro, quiet hacker-about-town. Due to a hugely public seizure-turned-viral-video, Jay is all too familiar with the fear and hurt that the publicity, whispers and finger-pointing that follow Nicole wherever she goes. And so he starts to investigate.

Burning Blue is a one-sitting book: it’s tight, it’s tense, and it’s intellectually as well as emotionally compelling. Jay’s voice echoes the rhythm and understated humor of old-school noir heroes—I wasn’t exactly sure how, but she reminded me of me. In spite of that, I liked her—but without ever sounding unrealistic or campy. Two thumbs way up, and while it’s not eligible for a 2012 Cybils Award, I have no doubts that it’ll be in the running next year.

Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.


*Breaking Beautiful (car crash leads to facial scarring), My Life in Black and White (car crash leads to facial scarring and skin grafts), Pushing the Limits (girl survives attempted filicide, is left with huge scars on both arms), Catch and Release (two teens survive flesh-eating bacteria: one loses a foot and part of his leg, the other an eye and most of one side of her jaw). Of those four, Catch and Release is the only one to add to your DO NOT MISS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES list.

**The Fault in Our Stars (two teens living with cancer fall in love and visit Amsterdam), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (boy is forced by his mother to spend time with a girl he vaguely knows who has cancer), Gone, Gone, Gone (among many other things, boy comes to terms with his twin’s death—and his own survival—of leukemia), The Probability of Miracles (girl with cancer travels to Promise, Maine, a town in which magic supposedly exists). While all four have their merits, Me and Earl made me laugh more (so far) than any other book this year.

***An honest-to-goodness actual trend, rather than simple, weird coincidence.