A 23-year-old's first novel and a book that has already won New Zealand's top children's book award are two of the finalists for this year's Montana Book Awards.

The 10PM Question by Kate De Goldi was named book of the year two weeks ago at the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It is the first book in Montana's history to be selected for both the adults' and children's national awards.

Another of the five finalists in the fiction category is The Rehearsal, Eleanor Catton's first novel.

It took Catton two years to write the book, which was published last July. It has since been picked up by publishers in Britain and the US.

Catton was born in 1985 in Canada and brought up in Canterbury. She has an MA in creative writing from Victoria University and is studying creative writing at the University of Iowa.

Catton has returned to New Zealand on her holiday break and found out about a week ago that she was a Montana finalist.

"I'm stoked, I'm really excited. It's a really nice thing to come home to," she said.

The novel is about a high school sex scandal that the local drama school decides to turn into a show.

Judges' convener Mark Williams said the fiction finalists showed "variety and sophistication".

"The fiction finalists take us inside the land of teenage anxieties and excitations, a world where emotion is physical and sex is as ubiquitous as thought, and where adult codes cannot overwhelm the force of desire."

Novelist and reviewer Jane Westaway and journalist and critic Margo White will be judging the books with Dr Williams across eight categories - fiction, poetry, biography, history, reference and anthology, environment, illustrative, and lifestyle and contemporary culture.

Dr Williams said a rich crop of books were published last year.

"We enjoyed lavish books on food, domestic architecture, gardening and the arts; challenging fiction and poetry; gripping biography and impressive works of history.

"All are evidence that the literary culture of this country is not about to roll over and die in the face of hard economic times."

This year's poetry category finalists also stood out, he said.

"Something significantly new has been achieved in poetic practice in this country. This year produced collections of individual poems and sequences that will stay in the minds of readers."

The finalists were chosen from more than 200 books. The winner of the poetry category will be announced on Montana Poetry Day on July 24. The other winners will be announced at a gala dinner at the Auckland Museum on July 27.

The winner in each category receives $5000 and becomes eligible for the Montana Medals for non-fiction and fiction or poetry, with a prize of $10,000 each.

- NZPA