NPR Searches for the Best 100 Young-Adult Novels of All Time

By Ellen Wexler — July 31, 2012 2 min read
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Google estimated that there were 129,864,880 books in the world as of last year. How can we choose what to read from 129,864,880 books?

Every summer, NPR tries to answer this question in a different way by creating some sort of “best books” list, changing the criteria annually. The Lord of the Rings series took the No. 1 spot on the science fiction and fantasy list in 2011. Stephen King landed six novels on the thrillers list in 2010. This summer, NPR is pulling together a list of the 100 best young-adult fiction novels ever written.

Most of the 235 young-adult finalists have not been deemed classics by the academic world, although some of them have. Most have not spurred revolutions or caused cultural paradigm shifts. Instead, they are whatever readers want them to be.

“There’s one thing a multitude of book-loving NPR types can most definitely do,” the news organization’s introduction to its best beach books poll in 2009 stated, “and that’s pick a list of books that will appeal to ... book-loving NPR types.”

According to NPR, readers sent in nominations last month, and a panel of three editors and a librarian created the list of finalists. Now, anyone can vote for up to 10 of their favorites on the NPR website.

There are no defensible guidelines, and NPR is quick to acknowledge this. “The standards we used in judging weren’t absolute—and debating the fine points is part of the fun,” wrote NPR’s Petra Mayer about creating the long list of potential winners.

Mayer explained how the most difficult part of the process wasn’t picking which books were the best, but deciding which books fell into the young-adult category in the first place. Ella Enchanted‘s audience was too young, while A Tree Grows in Brooklyn‘s audience was too old. Pride and Prejudice was actually disqualified for being too universal.

“Here’s a handy guideline: The Newbery Medal is awarded for distinguished contributions to American ‘literature for children.’ So if one of your favorites is a Newbery book, it’s likely to be too young,” Mayer wrote. “Though, yes, there are a few Newbery books on our list—we never said this poll was scientific!”

Besides, in a contest involving Harry Potter, Scout Finch, Anne Shirley, and Bilbo Baggins, ‘scientific’ may not be the best word to use.

According to Jen Doll of the Atlantic Wire, as of last week the frontrunners were The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Personally, I’m rooting for The Giver, a compelling story that deals with complex issues in a way that children can easily understand, and I Capture the Castle, a book about a girl named Cassandra who tells her story with some of the most enchanting, quirky narration I’ve read.

Take a look at the finalists to see if there are a couple of books you would like to advocate for. NPR will post the finalized list on Aug. 8.

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.