You may or may not have heard that NPR is compiling a list of the Best Teen Novels Ever.
In principle I think it’s a fun idea. Though the title, and therefore the premise, is a bit pompous. Best Teen Novels *Ever*? Really? I don’t know that you, or anyone, has the right to claim that about their list. Especially with so much controversy surrounding it. It may be open to voters, but who are you to decide which books do and do not make the list?
Admittedly, that sort of arrogance bothers me. And then I disagree with pieces of their list on top of that, so… you have a blog entry to entertain you.
First off, there’s 235 books to vote on. I get it, there’s a lot of books out there on the market and they did a good job of combining series. I’ve only read, probably, a third of these books and have even heard of less than that. So, granted, I’m not the most qualified dissenter in this matter. But here’s what I think of the books I do know about.
Lord of the Rings should not be on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I love this book. But it’s not a teen book. It’s deep and it’s complicated and none of the characters are teenagers and none of it is about coming-of-age themes. It’s classic, universal fantasy and nothing near YA.
Dune? no. Again, love it. But it’s really complex in its plotting, rather mature in its characters. Early college? sure, ok, maybe. But it’s not the book I’d hand to a 16 year old and think they’d have the patience or focus to enjoy it.
The Hobbit? eh, maybe… Tolkien wrote this for his children and it’s obviously more in depth than any of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, which I would categorize as middle-grade. Love her stuff, but A Swiftly Tilting Planet is the only one I’d recommend to a YA audience. And Tolkien is dense, so even though he wrote this for his kids and this obviously skews younger than Lord of the Rings, I don’t know. Maybe because I didn’t read it as a kid I can’t imagine it suiting that audience. Maybe I’m wrong.
And actually, Lord of the Rings and Dune were two of the books mentioned in the follow up debate article (linked above). But their justifications are ridiculous and contradictory.
Pride and Prejudice, in the end, is universal. It’s for all ages. The judges looked at qualities such as a book’s themes, the age of its main characters, its reading level. But in the end, the most important test was often whether a given book is one that teens themselves have claimed — whether they do, in fact, voluntarily read it.
And that’s how Flowers for Algernon made the list? Because teens voluntarily pick that up all the time while Pride and Prejudice is only required reading. And Lord of the Flies – that’s a fun one.
On the other hand, there are a lot of books beloved by teens that weren’t originally meant for them, like Lord of the Rings and Catcher in the Rye. Those made the list, along with books like Dune and The Last Unicorn that have become rites of passage for teen readers.
I disagree on the rites of passage contention. None of those books were anywhere near my teen years. And I know I grew up in a small town, but I didn’t know anyone who read them either. I watched the movie of The Last Unicorn as a kid, but didn’t read the book until long after my teen years.
Having said that, I’m sure plenty of teenagers read those books. Probably as many as read Pride and Prejudice. I’d say they’re equally universal (as are a lot of classics) and when you compile a list of Teen Novels it should adhere to your earlier criteria that theme, age of the main characters and reading level make it specifically YA in nature, otherwise where’s The Count of Monte Cristo and To Kill a Mockingbird and a dozen other books I had to read in high school? Also, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is too mature to be included? I don’t agree with that at all.
On the other side, I was almost surprised by some of the newer titles that did make the list while other more recent titles didn’t.
Like Cinder, how’s that even in the top 235? I mean, the answer is that it’s really popular this summer so I’m sure a ton of people mentioned it in their write-in votes. But it’s that very transitory nature of the vote that means they should know better than to give their list a title like “Best Teen Novels Ever”. Because next summer Cinder is going to be eclipsed by the new hot title on the radar.
In the hot new title section I would have added:
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Fair Godmother (series) by Janette Rallison
Dreamhunter (duet) by Elizabeth Knox (if you like Abhorsen you’d like that)
Mistwood by Leah Cypess
I’m surprised HarperTeen didn’t have a giant twitter campaign for the write-in stage. But they probably consider themselves too cool for something like an NPR list. And with some of the titles on that list, who can blame them?
ETA: They totally had one for the voting section so that shows what I know.
ETA: In case you’re curious, here is their final list.