Last month NPR released a list of the top 100 Young Adult books of all time. Judges narrowed the ballot down to 235 books from 1,200 nominated books, and over 75,000 people voted. So in many ways, this is a popularity contest, not necessarily a list of enduring classics, although several quite old books are on the list. YA lit, like everything popular with teenagers, is susceptible to trends and fast-dying crazes, so it would be interesting to see how many of these books are still on the list in 10 years.
I’ve read a lot of these books: 44 or 46 out of 100 (My stats are better if you look only at the top twenty; I’ve read 3/4 of those). So I wanted to weigh in on this assessment. The first exercise I ever did in my first class on literary criticism was to make a top 10 list with some classmates. Establishing the criteria for choosing which books are the best of all time means being explicit about value judgements, saying not just what is good and bad, but what is better and best and why. Since articulating an aesthetic is one of my main goals of the blog, it seems worthwhile to try a similar exercise.
One way that the list-writers and voters have made their task easier is by designating series (which proliferate in YA) as a single work. For the purpose of this kind of list, I think this is wise. Otherwise, many works would be excluded for the sake of awarding a few series multiple spots on the list. The rankings would turn into in-fighting about which installment of a particular series is really best, as each fan may have a different favorite.
First of all, I totally agree with the top three books. The Harry Potter series is as far as I’m concerned, the best YA series of all time. To Kill a Mockingbird is a timeless classic. I might bump it up to second place. The Hunger Games is a great set of books. The true test will be if this series stays on the list 10 years after its movies have gone to cable, though. I imagine it might drop a few spots, at least.
Here are the books on this list that I have reviewed:
- 24. Thirteen Reasons Why
- 45. Graceling series: Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue
- 47. Earthsea series
- 50. Song of the Lioness: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, and The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
- 52. Delirium series: Delirium and Pandemonium
- 58. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
- 67. Fallen series: Passion and Rapture
- 71. Before I Fall
- 78. Matched series
I’m going to split my discussion of this list into two posts. Today, I’m going to talk about the books that I like, which I think deserve a better place on the list, and tomorrow, I’m going to talk about mediocre books that the list overrated. Here are the books I would bump higher on the list:
15. His Dark Materials series: I’d put this as #3, after Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird. This series retells Paradise Lost in a way that could make a young reader interested in the classic, and shows the real stakes involved in what we believe about creation and salvation. It takes place in at least four beautifully described worlds, where polar bears, witches, and angels come to life. It blew my mind. Every time I think about and remember these books, they blow my mind all over again.
30. Tuck Everlasting: As one of the oldest books on the list and one of the founding novels of the genre of YA fantasy, I was surprised not to see this book place higher. I would have put it in the top 10. It’s a deceptively simple book, beginning with a question: What would it really be like to live forever?
44. The Dark Is Rising Sequence: I truly enjoyed this series about a boy who learns he’s one of a group of immortals that goes back to Merlin and Arthur’s time. There’s a lot of suspense, a poem that acts as a clue, a sense of adventure and danger, of history and myth.
45. Graceling series: The reviews make a longer case for the books, but in general, this is a feminist series with strong heroines who wield power wisely and have intriguing adventures and problems to solve. The language and the storytelling are top-notch.
57. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy: This story of magic, female friendship, addiction, and love is set in a Victorian boarding school. The ending has a great twist and a heartbreaking sacrifice (just how I like my endings).
63. A Ring of Endless Light: I read this book in high school and loved it so much that I was inarticulate talking about it in a college interview. It does such a great job of putting real existential problems in terms that a teenager can understand. It deserves a higher place in the list.
Here are some books that aren’t on the list that I’d like to add: