All the Birds In the Sky is the first Nebula novel I'm reading this year. We're off to a great start. The story follows two protagonists, Laurence Armstead and Patricia Delfine, starting when they are about six years old. He is a science prodigy and she communes with birds, briefly. They are both outcasts in beautifully and brutally described home and school environments. As it happens with outcasts, they end up together even though they don't always like each other much, because they fit nowhere else. Anders does a great job of creating detailed, real supporting characters--Laurence's desperate underachieving parents, and Patricia's over-driven and self-absorbed ones. They attend the worst version of an ordinary junior high school, complete with intense bullying and stupidity. Their counselor, Theodophilus Rose, is actually a member of the order of assassins. He has seen their future participating in a great war of science vs. magic, and hopes to execute them as a "pro-bono" hit in service of humanity.
In most award nominated books either the speculative or narrative aspect stands out more. The book might be a very fully imagined universe where the characters are on stage, or it might be strongly character-driven and the speculative aspect is secondary. This book is one of a very few I've read where both elements are strong, and equal. Anders perfectly captures the pain and self-centeredness of middle school, then transitions their personalities to adulthood and adult situations. The science is a stretch on our reality--there, it's possible to find schematics on the internet for a two-second time machine. This stretchiness allows Anders to make Laurence and Patricia's respective pursuits of science and magic seem equivalently arcane.
Suffice it to say I really enjoyed reading this book. I might well recommend it to my kids--there are sex scenes, but they are non-exploitative and emotionally relevant. As far as I'm concerned it's going to be a tough job for any of the others to overcome this one's lead. A very strong 4 stars.