After navigating NPR’s list of the top 100 teen novels I’ve come to the realization that the Young Adult classification is a failure. You might as well call it “Boy” fiction or “Girl” fiction – although those classifications would actually work more effectively to narrow the selection. The problem is Young Adult is a cross-genre, cross-gender, cross-age classification that can encompass a staggering list of titles. As a father who wants to help his children find quality reading material I spend a fair amount of time combing the children and teen shelves of bookstores and libraries looking for interesting and engaging books. Perhaps I was distracted by the preponderance of vampire titles. Perhaps I was simply pleased that the publishing industry has been paying so much attention to the segment after the phenomenal success of Harry Potter that I wasn’t concerned at the lack of focus within the category.
But lay out a list of 100 titles side by side and the lack of focus becomes startlingly clear.
I shouldn’t complain because there’s something for everyone but it makes my job recommending the best titles difficult because you can pretty much close your eyes and throw a stone in any direction and hit something that will please one segment of the audience – but not all.
With this in mind, here are a few compelling options.
A caveat – despite all the snarky comments I’m about to lay out a lot of these books are really very good and worth reading. It’s their presence in the dumping ground of YA fiction that manifests my frustration.
From the world-wide best-selling titanic commercial success pile:
Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, etc.
You’ve no doubt heard of and most likely read all of these. A number of them also appear over on the Top Science Fiction and Fantasy list.
From the classic teen angst pile:
Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, Lord of the Flies, Go Ask Alice, etc.
There’s an even larger modern teen angst pile but we’ll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, go dig out that yellowed required reading copy from your box of old high school stuff. Speaking of modern teen angst…
From the John Green pile:
The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, etc.
Merran became a fan of John Green after reading The Fault in Our Stars, which she felt was very well written and incredibly sad. She dipped into some of this other titles but ultimately had to move on because sad.
From the No Duh Classics pile:
To Kill a Mockingbird, Anne of Green Gables, Call of the Wild, Treasure frickin’ Island, and everything from the classic teen angst pile.
Since you’ve already got that box of old required reading out of the basement go ahead and take these out as well.
From the not-just-YA Science Fiction and Fantasy pile:
Lord of the Rings, Fahrenheit 451, Dune, His Dark Materials, etc.
Many of these were originally not written for young people. However Fantasy and Science Fiction are easy to tip into the Young Adult category. After all, it’s just kid stuff, right?
From the (sigh) Vampire and/or shadowhunters/demon pile:
The Mortal Instruments, Twilight, Infernal Devices, Vampire Academy (seriously?)
Blah blah, vampires, blah blah, dark forces, blah blah blah.
From the dystopian metaphor for teen social disfunction pile:
Divergent series, The Giver series, Uglies series, Delirium series, etc.
This was another epiphany from looking at all these titles side by side. This is actually a well defined sub-genre of young adult science fiction. Go figure.
From the modern teen angst pile:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Thirteen Reasons Why, Speak, Stargirl, My Sister’s Keeper, etc. etc.
This is really what the Young Adult genre should be. Generally mainstream, generally realistic fiction about people dealing with growing up during an awkward time of life.