(Here is another book that got tons of starred reviews this year. I think it may have received starred reviews in 5 or 6 different sources.)
Steve is worried about his new baby brother. He was born with congenital defects and is not doing well. Steve is also OCD and deals with a lot of anxiousness. One night he has a dream that some creatures--he thinks of them as angels--come to him and promise him that they can "fix" his baby brother. The dream gives him hope. The dream recurs and after a while, Steve realizes that the creatures are actually the wasps who are building a large nest outside his home. When the wasps tell him that they are, indeed, planning to replace the baby, instead of repairing him, Steve has to decide whether he wants his own flawed brother, or a perfect child provided by the wasps.
This book was as weird as it sounds. In some ways it was like the old late night horror films I used to stay up and watch occasionally as a kid, like "The Twilight Zone." That said, the book brought up a lot of moral and ethical questions, some of which, if genetic engineering technology progresses, we might face as a society in the future. Would we be willing to trade a potentially disabled child for the chance of having a physically perfect one? How eager would we be to correct our own physical imperfections, if given the chance, and how would that affect the people we are? Another intriguing thing about the story is that an adult reader will question, throughout, if what Steve is experiencing is real, or a creation of his over-stressed, immature emotions. I am not sure if kids will pick up on that element or not. Kids are used to being thrown into a fantasy world in a book, and are mostly willing to take it at face value.
I can see why this book got a lot of critical attention. It is very different from anything else that came out this year. It will be interesting to see if it will win any awards. Personally, I thought the writing in Orbiting Jupiter was better. I guess it will depend on the committee. Are they looking for something unique, or just really well done? (244 p)