Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Best YA Novels: Process and Fantasy Bracket

So, as many of you may already know, NPR is attempting to create a crowd-sourced list of the 100 best YA novels of all time.  After getting suggestions from readers and consulting with some experts, they have produced a list of 235 finalists, from which readers are invited to vote for ten.


So, needless to say: there were tears and spreadsheets, science and magic, and my very favorite decision-making tool--the bracket.

Let's break it down a little.

The Process

1) Look through the entire list.  Freak out.

2) Open up a Google Doc spreadsheet and create four columns: Contemporary, Classic/Historical, Fantasy, and Dystopian/Magical Realism/Science Fiction.  (You may choose different categories; these are the result of some tinkering in order to get them to come out evenly.)

3) Start sorting possibilities into lists.  Shuffle and go back for additional titles as needed.  (I found that my classic/historical list came up the shortest.  Hey, weak brackets happen.)

4) "Seed" each list using the highly flawed, deeply problematic, super-simple average Goodreads rating.  Wish you had a stats background so you could factor in the number of ratings and the fact that series collections tend to be much higher rated than the average of the books in the series.  Realize you have other things to do today and just add the average ratings to your spreadsheet, already.

5) Create a bracket (I used bracketmaker.com) with all your choices.

6) Have several heart attacks while deciding between books you love like family members.  The final 8 get automatic votes, with two wild card spots to alleviate some of the heart-attackage.

7) Vote.  Try to remember that books don't have feelings, and you haven't actually betrayed your best friends.

The Bracket: Fantasy

 The Gut-Wrenchers
This was by far the toughest bracket for me.  The His Dark Materials/Graceling Series matchup nearly killed me.  In the end, neither of those made it to the final eight--but the Graceling series got one of my wild card votes.  The Goose Girl vs. Cinder made me sad too; I have a lot of love for The Goose Girl.  Oh, and Girl of Fire And Thorns.  I was surprised to learn that fantasy is apparently my favorite genre overall;  it didn't make the final match-up but it had a lot more mid-level contenders than any of the others.

The Upsets
  • The Graceling series ranked well below the His Dark Materials series; HDM has been around a lot longer, but both have opposition coming from some conservative/religious groups.  As Mr. S commented, though, HDM really is of a different era, and all told, I find Katsa, Fire, and Bitterblue more than a match for Lyra.  
  • The Goose Girl ranked higher than Cinder, which surprised me, but when I look back I realize it's actually a pretty small margin separating them.  Cinder is much newer but I think higher profile, while The Goose Girl may not have as much hype to live up to, but has had years to quietly rack up good reviews.
  • The Princess Bride vs. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was an interesting match; it's another one where something really recent was up against something from an earlier era.  The Princess Bride is a classic; Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a celebrated newcomer.  I'm finding that, in fantasy, at least, I tend to go with the newer stuff.
The Votes From This Quarter (out of a total 10):
  • Harry Potter Series (winner)
  • Cinder (runner-up)
  • Graceling Series (wildcard)
Check back throughout the week for the rest of the bracket and my overall list!  And I'd love to hear where you disagree!  What fantasy books from NPR's list would have made your top 16?  Which of these match-ups would you have called differently?

**CALL FOR GUEST POSTS: If you'd like to share your thoughts on any aspect of this NPR event--a bracket of your own, a discussion of your list, books you wish had made the list--email me at readingontheftrain@gmail.com to set up a day within the next two weeks!** 

Other Brackets:
Dystopian/Magical Realism/Science Fiction



  1. Love your use of brackets for this! For me, it would have ended in Harry Potter vs. The Princess Bride. (I haven't read Daughter of Smoke and Bone yet, and TPB is one of my all-time favs.) In my own vote, The Giver took a top spot--that's the big fantasy gut-wrencher for me.

    1. I sorted The Giver into the Dystopian bracket--where it will be the subject of its own discussion, largely hinging on the fact that it was nominated with its sequels, as a series, rather than a standalone. That one was tough.

      My main reaction to all the books I cut was, "I need to read that again, maybe I was too hard on it!" I definitely felt that way about TPB. It is pretty awesome. I think if I had read it as a kid, it might have had more luck.


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