I've really enjoyed serving as a second round judge in the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category this year. Here are my thoughts on the book we chose as this year's winner. Be sure to check out the rest of the winners here because they are all great choices! I was especially excited to see one of my nominations win (Easy Reader category)--Yeah for Ling and Ting!
ABOUT THE BOOK
A deadly white mist has
cloaked the earth for hundreds of years. Humanity clings to the highest
mountain peaks, where the wealthy Five Families rule over the teeming
lower slopes and rambling junkyards. As the ruthless Lord Kodoc patrols
the skies to enforce order, thirteen-year-old Chess and his crew
scavenge in the Fog-shrouded ruins for anything they can sell to
Hazel is the captain of their salvage raft: bold and
daring. Swedish is the pilot: suspicious and strong. Bea is the
mechanic: cheerful and brilliant. And Chess is the tetherboy: quiet and
quick…and tougher than he looks. But Chess has a secret, one he’s kept
hidden his whole life. One that Lord Kodoc is desperate to exploit for
his own evil plans. And even as Chess unearths the crew’s biggest
treasure ever, they are running out of time...
The Fog Diver starts with a bang and doesn't let up until the very last page. That's how I know that a lot of young fantasy readers will love this one. The action is almost nonstop, which makes for a surprisingly fast read, a book that is hard to put down. So this book is a winner in terms of kid appeal. And yet despite the large degree of action I still found myself learning enough about the setting (the sky and the tops of mountains, and the fog-shrouded world below) to be intrigued. And the characters grow and develop through the challenges they face, except maybe Bea who is as enthusiastic and cheerful at the end as she was at the beginning and everyone loves her to pieces (including me!), and that doesn't even count her incredible mechanical skills. Each of the characters faces his/her own challenges, but it all centers around Chess's and his friends' need to escape the slums in which they live, not only for Chess's sake (Chess was born in the fog due to Lord Kodoc's manipulation which gives him the ability to function in the fog better than anyone else), but for their mentor Mrs. E who is fogsick and needs help that can only come from Port Oro the center for a group of people that revolted against Lord Kodoc's control.
There were a couple of things that I found especially interesting about the book. First, Chess isn't the leader of the group, Hazel is, and she is a great leader and a great diverse character. Second, Chess dives into the fog without hesitation, but is absolutely terrified of Lord Kodoc, he doesn't start the story naturally brave. And yet his loyalty to his adopted family outweighs everything else, even his fears.
Despite all the tension in the story, the author adds some humorous moments through the use of the children discussing things from the past. These comments and the assumptions the children make about things such as a twisted version of Robin Hood (Robbing Hood and his hoodie who lived in the Hood with a robot called Made Marian and a monkey named Fryer Tuck) and other amusing guesses about the world before the fog came (a world they know little about and what little they know comes from a scrapbook that Chess's father kept). All in all, I loved this book and it's great characters, humor, and intensity. And I'm very much looking forward to reading the sequel.