The end of the year is well-known as the time that all the big Oscar-type movies come out. There's kind of a similar effect in books, with blogs and publishing industry magazines talking up the big books and potential prize-winners. So here's my list. Probably not all prize winners but well worth seeking out and keeping in mind for that after-Christmas shopping.
Most recent read: The Returning. Published in Australia originally as Bloodflower (truthfully, I would probably never read a novel called Bloodflower, so this is one time the US title is an improvement.) The Returning is hard to characterize. It's set in a unnamed country whose culture is at times vaguely English, at other times vaguely feudal Japanese. A civil war has unsettled everything. The main character, Cam, returns to his village, but soon leaves again because of the resentment everyone bears him (he was the only one, of all the men who went, who returned.) The narrative follows Cam but also the other inhabitants of the village: an orphan boy, a refugee girl, Cam's sister, his former fiancee. It's at this point that I break off and say, just read the darn book. It's very well done, one of the most thoughtful and interesting books I've read on the YA side in a long time.
Potential Newbery(s): Bigger than a Bread Box. I don't read a lot of middle-grade or contemporary novels but I read this feeling I had fallen into the hands of a master. The plot works, the problems are realistic, and best of all, not only is there magic, but there are consequences to the magic. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making. This is one of those books that winks at adults, and might even be aimed at them for all I know. (I did wonder, while I read it, how many children would really get into it, but then I remembered that at age 10 I read all the Oz books I could find, and they do much the same thing.)
Obligatory Mentions: Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Chime.
Overlooked: Fly Trap. Frances Hardinge in the only writer I can think of fit to inherit Diana Wynne-Jone's mantle. She just comes up with stuff that makes other YA fantasy seem pallid.
And one other mention, since I'm only 3/4 of the way through: Life: An Exploded Diagram. Love and the Cuban Missile Crisis and do I get the feeling that Mal Peet still doesn't quite know what kind of a writer he is? Yes, but worth reading.