NPR just posted another reader favorites list – this one is the 100 best-ever teen novels. These lists are always fun, not just in a what-have-I-read kind of way, but for the “controversy” they generate. (I say that in quotes because, however heated the discussion gets, it’s just a book list after all.)
Who’s on it, who’s not? And the bigger question, what the hell is a teen novel anyway?
NPR posted this explanation of why it chose what it did. First, this is a reader poll, not a critical analysis. Second, they eliminated books that really seemed aimed at middle-school and younger. They decided 12-18 is the target age range for YA books, and they decided that Newbery award winners are “children’s books” not teen books. I’m okay with that.
Then they applied a few rules that are, at best, questionable. Is the book too violent? Ender’s Game is out. Too mature? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, out. Are teens not “lining up to read the book”? Pride and Prejudice, out.
So you’re left to wonder what’s the definition of a “teen novel”. Because I question whether Dune and LOTR are teen novels, regardless of their merits. Is To Kill a Mockingbird a “teen novel”? And do teens really line up to read A Separate Peace or Flowers for Algernon? What’s the standard here?
If a teen novel is defined as a favorite of teens today, much of this list doesn’t make sense. If it’s books that are commonly assigned in high schools, well then I’d say that a high school lit class should be assigning literature to read, not “teen novels”. Is it, what were your favorite books when you were a teen? I didn’t really read “teen novels” as a teen (I read books like Stephen King, Gone with the Wind, and my mom’s “adult” romance novels). Although I certainly admit to reading (and re-reading) Forever.
You can’t look at whether a book was marketed to teens. That works for today’s fiction but I don’t think works for the classics.
Here’s the standard I like: a teen novel is one where the main character is a teen for most of the story. Why not? It’s clean and straightforward.
In general I thought the classics were well-chosen, and I was happy to see Garth Nix, David Levithan, Markus Zusak, and Scott Westerfeld on the list. So if the list is a little on the fluffy commercial side (you won’t find me reading Jodi Picoult any time soon), it seems fairly balanced.
And in the end, what a book list is good for is generating reading ideas, and this one will do the trick – for teens and adults. The top 20 are books I’d recommend to any teen or adult, except for the couple I haven’t read. Do you think it’s too modern? Too classic? Too much fantasy or not enough?
Drop me a comment and let me know what you think. Are your favorites on the list? How would you define a teen novel, and does this list cut it for you?