On Tuesday, I spend much of my day agonizing over my choices for NPR's "Best-Ever Teen Novels" voting. You can see my process for creating brackets, as well as my fantasy bracket and discussion of fantasy choices here, my dystopian/magical realism/science fiction bracket here, my contemporary bracket here and my classic/historical bracket here. Today is the championship round! Yes, all my votes have already been determined, but what's a bracket-based tournament without winners?
The Final Four:
Age when I first read it: 13
Why It Deserves To Be In My Final Four: Harry Potter changed the way young people related to reading. Yes, lots of us were reading already, but suddenly the bookstore was COOL, at least once every few years. Also, I was definitely in the first generation that grew up with Harry--I read the first book right before starting high school, and the seventh book came out when I was on my first grown-up vacation with Mr. S, right after I graduated from college. I love knowing that so many more kids will continue to grow up with him.
Bracket: Dystopian/Magical Realism/Science Fiction
Age when I first read it: 24
Why It Deserves To Be In My Final Four: I love The Hunger Games in two ways: as a reader, and as a teacher. As a reader, I say it deserves to be here because it's the only book (as far as I can recall) that I've ever been able to finish and then immediately start reading again. I've wanted to do that a bunch of times, but I get bored. Not with this one. As a teacher, I say it deserves to be here because it is very nearly the elusive silver bullet: 99 percent of students will read this book and like it. And then 90 percent of them will read the sequels. And then 80 percent of them will say, "What else do you have that's like The Hunger Games?" And suddenly my library shelves are emptying out. So it would win this competition on that alone--but I also really, really love the whole series as a reader.
Age when I first read it: 26
Why It Deserves To Be In My Final Four: Looking For Alaska is divided into two parts: before, and after. There is a Thing That Happens and although this book is Kind of a Big Deal and although the Thing That Happens is a thing that happens all the time, in YA lit and in the world, I somehow managed not to know or guess what it would be and in fact I did not believe it for many pages after it did happen, sure that it was a mistake, much as I would have felt if it was a real thing in my real life. It also made me cry on the subway, which happens more than I would like but still not that often. Also, when I shoved it toward my students and said, "You guys need to read this so we can talk about it," one of them read it and gave a speech about it in her English class that made other students want to read it, which is pretty awesome.
Age when I first read it: So young I can't remember
Why It Deserves To Be In My Final Four: Anne Shirley taught me how to be a person who feels feelings all the time. I mean, I have always been a person like that, but she showed me how to handle it, and she showed me that eventually the feelings that you are feeling RIGHT NOW will be replaced with other, different feelings. Even when you've dyed your hair green by accident (her) or cut a big chunk of it off because it was tangled (me), you will get past it. When you think your separation from your significant other will NEVER END AND IT WILL PROBABLY KILL YOU (that's both of us), you're right that it feels that way but wrong about the actual outcome, and you will probably wind up not only alive, but happily married (both of us again.) Out of all the books on the list, these are definitely the ones that have had the biggest influence on me, personally.
How It All Went Down:
That final match was an absolute killer--but while I allowed personal impact to guide a lot of my choices, I had to let the bigger picture be the tie-breaker here. My students > me. So ultimately, The Hunger Games series took first place, with my role model and BFF Anne Shirley taking the silver. (And if I had to rank the runners-up, I'd probably have to say Harry takes the bronze. I love you, John Green, but...it's Harry Potter. I mean.)
In fact, here's my overall list, IN ORDER**:
1) The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (dystopian/magical realism/science fiction winner and overall winner)
2) The Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery (classic/historical winner and overall runner-up)
3) The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (fantasy winner)
4) Looking For Alaska by John Green (contemporary winner)
5) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (classic/historical runner-up)
6) Cinder by Marissa Meyer (fantasy runner-up)
7) The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth (dystopian/magical realism/science fiction runner-up)
8) How To Save A Life by Sara Zarr (contemporary runner-up)
9) The Scorpio Races (wildcard)
10) The Graceling series by Kristin Cashore (wildcard)
**What's a little weird, here, is that while I still think The Scorpio Races is my book of the year so far, there are a few books ahead of it that I read this year. But they were divisional runners-up, and The Scorpio Races was a wildcard pick because it happened to be in the same division as the Hunger Games series and the Divergent series. Yes, The Scorpio Races lost to The Book Thief and not the Hunger Games series; but then my gut chose it anyway. That's what wildcards are for, in this competition. That said, I felt obligated to my brackets at least a little bit, so my two wild cards are at the bottom of my top ten ranking. I will also probably re-read several of these in December, prior to declaring an official Book of 2012.
Thanks for sticking with the nerdiest passion project ever! And I'd love to hear where you disagree! What were your top ten books? If you had to pick a winner, what would it have been? 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 email@example.com to set up a day within the next two weeks!**
Dystopian/Magical Realism/Science Fiction