NPR.org recently held a contest in which their listeners could nominate their favorite “Teen” novels of all time. Well, the results of this noble and fun endeavor are in. Over 1,200 books were nominated. Then a panel of judges whittled down all of those nominees to a list of 235. From that list, listeners were asked to select their ten favorites. And the result is the “100 Best-Ever Teen Novels.” You can see the list here. And you can read more about the judges’ inclusion/exclusion criteria here (e.g., A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was excluded as “too mature,” and most Newbery winners were excluded because they skewed “too young”—hence no Little House books).
The whole thing was, of course, a popularity contest, and the results reflect this. The Harry Potter series comes in at #1, and Hunger Games trilogy lands at #2. And then there are the popular and undisputed classics like To Kill a Mockingbird (#3), The Catcher in the Rye (#6), and The Outsiders (#13). But overall, the list leans heavily toward contemporary, newer fare—books that, to be honest, are hardly classics. Or, I should say, there are many books that really haven’t ripened on the vine yet. John Green, a truly talented writer, has five books on the list, and two in the Top 10 alone. Okay, as I said, he’s a talent, and his popularity is staggering for a “literary” novelist in this day and age. But really? All of his books are on the 100 Best of All Time list? That’s a bit much. I won’t name any other dubious inclusions, to avoid being totally ostracized from the YA world. But many mediocre (and of course bestselling) books on the list outrank TRUE classics like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (#26), Forever by Judy Blume (#46), and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (#61).
Besides lacking a lot of lesser-known gems (my own nominees include I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. by John Donovan, Z is for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien, and The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp), the list is also pretty, well, white, which was pointed out by a friend on Twitter. Indeed, there are just a two books by writers of color (Sherman Alexie, Sandra Cisneros). Yikes.
So, yeah, it’s an insanely imperfect list. But it’s the nature of the beast, right? So check it out. There are still truly some great books on there amidst the undeserving throngs. And, if nothing else, the list can give you sense of the most “popular” books that teens are reading these days.