Friday, April 15, 2016
"Best Teen Novel Ever"
NOTE: This post is a reprint from my other blog in 2012.
Last month NPR opened a seemingly simple little survey, asking for the top 100 Young Adult (YA) titles ever. After a month of suggestions they narrowed the list to 235, which are currently up for voting on NPR's website. Of course, nothing like a survey is ever simple - and this list is currently raising a lot of heated discussion about "best books" and "Young Adult" fiction and "teen literature." Certainly, there are books that are written with young audiences in mind - and there are others which are about young people, but are certainly written toward mature audiences.
The problem with this list is centered around the vast array of literature, covering everything from nearly easy reader books to profoundly and historically significant works of classic literature. There are books which are simply great stories, and their are works of social criticism written with style and sophistication. Any English teacher - or reader, really - who doesn't see an incomparable difference between The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies doesn't really understand novels and literature as anything other than stories. Granted, for a consumer, maybe that is enough. But for a serious news source like NPR, it's strangely inappropriate - if not down right wrong - to offer a list that contains both The Encyclopedia Brown book series and To Kill a Mockingbird. From a purely prose stylist standpoint, they don't belong in the same section of the library. And when we get into content matter, social criticism, and thematic elements, they don't even belong in the same building.
According to Petra Mayer - an associate editor at NPR coordinating the contest - the current frontrunners for the competition are the Harry Potter Series, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars about a teen struggling with a terminal cancer diagnosis, and The Hunger Games, which is a rather violent thriller that is written at about a fifth grade level, but contains enough violence to be more appropriate for upper middle school. What bothers me about these "popularity contests" is the lack of critical analysis into what makes a good Young Adult novel. Certainly, popularity matters. However, on a purely critical level, there is little quality writing in The Hunger Games - despite an engaging story, but the work of J.K. Rowling is written well enough to be taught in high school. In terms of these sort of lists - at least when ranked by NPR, and not E-Entertainment - the quality of writing should matter.
That said, I'd argue that John Green's Fault is, like Harry Potter, a wonderful story and a very well written work worthy of classroom study.