We are about a week and a half away from my next reading roundup—where you can see what’s been living on my bedside table over the last three months, other than water cups and crumpled kleenex. There are some titles I’m really excited to share with you, but for now I want to talk about YA Lit. “Young Adult” is a misnomer in a way; books labeled as such shouldn’t be feared or judged by adults. This is where some of the best writing is taking place and where many of my favorite novels are categorized. YA is a dominating, defining category where authors are taking great risks, in story lines and in characters. And those risks are being greatly rewarded. Harry Potter? Hunger Games? Divergent? The Fault in Our Stars? All YA-tagged, all adult loved. And box-office loved as well.
Entertainment Weekly, my pop-culture dictionary, recently held a weekly bracket challenge to find The Best Young Adult Novel of All Time. Starting with 64 titles, they slowly whittled it down to one over the course of a month with some helpful online voting. I was sooo on board with this, voting every week but the first. There were some really surprising results for me. Click here to better see the full, completed bracket.
Here’s a background note from EW’s book editor on how they set up the challenge:
“Coming up with a roster for the contest wasn’t easy—in fact, the first list I drew up had almost 300 titles on it. Though I oversaw it, literally everyone on the EW edit staff contributed ideas. There are a couple of things to keep in mind about it before you start voting. One, when we’re talking about a series, like Harry Potter, then the series itself is the entry—otherwise the list would get too cluttered with multiple titles from the YA’s most outstanding series. And two, some of these books were not technically written as YA novels, but we’ve included them because their primary audience is YA. In our defense, books like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird were written long before the YA designation even existed (though they would have, without a doubt, been published as YA today). A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was published as YA in England, but not here. And so on—you get the drift.”
I decided to take the blank bracket and complete it myself. Since I missed the first round, my first impression of the full spread was “god, I haven’t read so many of these!” And then my second reaction was a close “what’s up with the West?” (The bottom left part of the bracket normally reserved for the West in the NCAA’s March Madness Bracket Challenge.) Either I’m not as well-read as I originally thought, or someone wanted to stack the deck in Twilight’s favor. I mean, it basically got a very free ride to the Final Four. Lots of other books on the list deserve that spot: Hunger Games and To Kill a Mockingbird, especially. I feel dirty.
On realizing I had read so few in the first round, I had to set up some parameters: I can only vote on those books I’ve actually read (those I haven’t I highlighted in orange) — OR — if a book is a favorite of a fellow book-lover that can vouch for its quality (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) — OR — if I really liked the movie (Hugo, The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Because Books are always > their Movies. With those rules in mind, here’s my complete bracket:
There were some painfully hard match-ups. These were the worst:
To Kill a Mockingbird v. Flowers for Algernon – Winner: Flowers for Algernon
Flowers won because it was really one of the first “grown-up” books I read as a child and I have loved it ever since. It showed me a promising future beyond V.C. Andrews, R.L. Stein and Christopher Pike. It felt like my first piece of true literature—and I was hooked. It’s always had a place on my bookshelf.
Divergent Trilogy v. The Fault in Our Stars – Winner: The Fault in Our Stars
The Divergent Trilogy is innovative, thoughtful and well-written, but I’m not finished with it yet. Fault won because it was powerful, it was touching, it was real, it was beautiful. A must read for sure.
The Book Thief v. The Hunger Games – Winner: The Book Thief
Man, I loved Hunger Games, but it will take an act of nature (see below) to
take out be more touching than Book Thief.
Harry Potter Series v. The Book Thief – Winner: Harry Potter
The Book Thief is one of my favorite books of all time, but in the end it came down to sheer volume. Seven wonderful, adventure-filled books that spurred a reading revolution? I love it. J.K. Rowling has had such an incredible impact on pop-culture and YA literature. There’s a reason she’s richer than the queen: These books are pure magic. As much as I loved them on my own, I have loved sharing the enthusiasm with my friends and family more. I give you Exhibit
For those interested in The Book Thief, my advice is to please–PLEASE— read it before seeing the recent movie version. The reviews haven’t been great and I know there’s no way anyone could capture the beauty of the story that will play out in your head. My BFF Bobbie read the book first and lent me her copy. As I was sitting on a plane reading a very emotional scene I started to cry and looked down and noticed that wilted spots marked the bottom of the page–evidence of Bobbie’s own tears. It still gives me chills to think about it.
Want to fill out your own bracket? Click here for a blank version and let me know what novel finds its way to the center. Are there books in orange I should really read? Anyone else shocked that the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or the Narnia Series didn’t make the cut? Are those not YA??? Fill me in on your thoughts!