I picked Hiromi Goto's YA fantasy novel, Half World, which has actually been reviewed by someone else in the tour a few days ago, but I have different things to say, so I'm going to stick with my pick. I love this book; I teach it in my course on authors of color in science fiction and fantasy, and my college students really love it too, even the ones who don't usually read speculative fiction.
Part of what makes this novel stand out is the protagonist. Melanie Tamaki is a reluctant hero. Some horrible things happen to her at the start of the book, and then she gets dragged into an adventure, and then some more horrible things happen to her (really, really creepy stuff), and hey, even at the end of the book, she doesn't get off scot-free and get to live happily ever after in any kind of easy way. That makes the book sound like a downer, but weirdly, it's not. And a lot of why it isn't is Melanie.
The word 'feisty' gets used a lot to describe young women with attitude, but you would never describe Melanie as feisty. Angry, exhausted, frustrated, sulky, just generally pissed off at the world that has dumped a nasty load on her, yes. And rightfully so. She's no kind of hero at the start of the book -- she doesn't even look like a hero. In fact, she's fat, which is probably my absolute favorite aspect of the book. I was perhaps ten pounds overweight as a teen, according to my doctor, but oh, I thought I was fat. HUGELY fat.
I was horribly self-conscious about my weight at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, etc. -- all the way to college, in fact, when I finally managed to shake that off. How much would it have changed my world, if I had run into a strong, angry, fat female protagonist? And even better, one who does, in the end, become a hero? I can't think of a single other YA speculative fiction book which offers that, and for that alone, I would love Half-World.
Did I mention Melanie is also poor? Being raised by a single mom? This book is full of incredibly rich, fabulously detailed characters (even the bad guys, even the incidental ones), who are just unforgettable. It's an emotional rollercoaster -- love and fear and hate and triumph and more, and while you may find this book disturbing, I'm pretty sure that it's not a book you'll ever forget.
I could go on and on with all the reasons I love this book, but instead I will leave you with this list of awards it's won:
Carl Brandon Parallax Award
2010 Sunburst Award, YA
Longlisted for the 2010 British Fantasy Award for Best Novel
2010 White Pine Award nominee
YALSA 2010 Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee
Longlisted for the 2011 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Just read it. It's awesome.