EK Johnston's The Story of Owen, a finalist for the William Morris debut YA award last year (and who shares my agent, which is how the book was on my radar in the first place) has been on my to-read list for some time.
I really enjoyed this book, which wasn't what I expected in a
lot of good ways. Siobhan McQuaid is a pretty ordinary student in her
small town in Canada: she's obsessed with her music, she works hard at
school, and she mostly lies low. But everything changes when Owen
Thorskard moves to town with his father and two aunts--all of them
dragon slayers. Because Siobhan lives in an alternate world where
dragons still live, and are drawn particularly to carbon emissions,
which makes everything from driving to factory operations much more dangerous. Oil magnates organized the Oil Watch program, which requires young dragon slayers to enlist to protect the oil fields (which draw dragons for obvious reasons). Siobhan befriends Owen when they're both late to English and get detention, but when she's drawn into his world, she takes on a position as Owen's bard, called to sing the song(s) of his dragon-slaying to the world. While that sounds like it could be hokey, it's really not--partly because of Siobhan's wryness; partly because Owen and his family are doing something pretty incredible--in a world where top dragon slayers work for the government or command top salaries working for oil industries, Owen's family has chosen to eschew all of that to try and help a rural region that can only pay them in goods.
Things I liked: the setting here was fascinating: not just the world of rural Canada, but the world Johnston created. The alternate dragon mythology was pretty cool too. And I love that we get the story from Siobhan's perspective rather than Owen's. While he's literally the hero of this piece, I liked seeing his world from a bit of a remove, and the bard idea is genius. Siobhan has such a rich voice, full of musical notes and trumpets and woodwinds. And while a romance between Siobhan and Owen would seem like the obvious direction this story to take, that's not exactly what happens--and I liked that here, again, the author veered away from the expected and easy answer.