Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader!
As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.
While some girls are horse-crazy from the minute they're tall enough to reach a stirrup, others of us... are not into Pony Club books and that type of thing. I find that I'm mainly into the equine only when they're a.) bloodthirsty unicorns, a la RAMPANT, by Diana Peterfreunde, or b.) slightly rage/possessed water horses, a la THE SCORPIO RACES. Otherwise, meh. I could take 'em or leave 'em. Which is why this book tickled me. We gotcher insane horses, we gotcher mystical man-eaters, and now we've got... androids? Right. The Uncanny Valley widens.
Synopsis: Detroit once was a place for the people. Its working-class denizens knew where a good time was to be had - where the music was, where the best food was, and where to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon - at the races, sliding tickets across the counter, cheering and shouting, taking a chance, and making book. But, the racetrack where horses ran fell into disuse with the Titans came. Good, clean entertainment, it was supposed to be. Safer for everyone - for horses, for riders. But the Titans came and crushed a very old industry, and the betting on this new breed was easier - faster paced, and more addictive than anything that had come before. The rich got richer, the backers, the steel manufacturers, those in the right position...and the poor - betting on a dream of breaking even someday - got poorer. Families were losing houses, jobs, and everything was sliding downhill. Astrid could feel it -- and see what was coming for them. But she could no more ignore the Titans than her father. Only, her bailiwick wasn't the betting... it was the dream of a ride.
Astrid is betting on the "just one shot" like everyone else. She's given sweat, blood, time, and silence to put her hands on a single dream: to keep her family together. She just wants to make up for the one mistake she's made -- but is it possible? Can you ever really have back what you've lost?
Observations: This novel doesn't have a romantic storyline that toils away surreptitiously beneath the surface then rises up to swamp the narrative. Let's just caress that thought for a moment and gaze at it fondly.
There aren't a lot of YA novels featuring grandparents, and how we love them. There really aren't a lot of YA novels featuring irascible, cranky old people whom we love anyway. I like the grudging affection in this novel; Astrid's for the Titans, Rags for Astrid and Magnolia, even a family grudging affection for each other's failures. This novel is about the distance that is between people - between classes - and how it extends and expands. It is about the fractures that come into families in pursuit of security. It is about worry and strife and betting on yourself with your whole heart. There is a lot of heart in this novel, as well as a lot of math and guys with good tools.
Conclusion: The idea of mechanical horses I've not seen elsewhere, and I really like this interestingly post-contemporary world-building. There are big-picture themes in this novel, as well as fast-paced racing action and amusing characterizations. I can see this book appealing to boys and girls - it's very entertaining and engaging, as well as STEM-oriented. With its familiar feel, this old story of an old sport - betting and racing - is given a truly fresh, original face.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find TITANS by Victoria Scott at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!