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Personal development books for young adults

Analysis of TIME Magazine’s 100 “Best” Books for “Young Adults”

Most librarians love a booklist. But when major media outlets cover young adult fiction, the results are sometimes…mixed. So it was with a healthy dose of skepticism that many young adult librarians viewed Time Magazine’s release of its list of 100 Best Young Adult Books.

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While the list does include many fantastic young adult novels, and many other books that are classics in their own right, it is not without its deficiencies. For your convenience, I’ve made a spreadsheet of all the titles (no clicking through slideshows!) and added the publication date and any ALA awards the title has won.

By my count, about half of the books are best described as middle grade or adult fiction, and some very important and influential authors and books were not included. As many have pointed out, the list is almost all white. The list only includes nine books written by seven different authors who are people of color or American Indian:

  • Sherman Alexie
  • Isabel Allende
  • Walter Dean Myers
  • Marilyn Nelson
  • Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Mildred D. Taylor
  • Gene Luen Yang

In a time when the community of young adult and children’s publishing is advocating for diversity, the lack of it seems even more egregious.

But perhaps the issues with some of the titles can be attributed to the shifting definition of young adult literature.

What is “young adult literature?”

As I’m sure everyone reading this knows, young adult fiction is tricky to define and difficult to categorize—especially when trying to assemble a “best of” list spanning literature from the mid 19th century to today.

YALSA acknowledges the amorphous nature of young adult literature, and discusses not only its importance, but also its history, in the The Value of Young Adult Literature, written by Michael Cart and adopted by the YALSA board in 2008. “The term ‘young adult literature”’ is inherently amorphous, for its constituent terms ‘young adult’ and ‘literature’ are dynamic, changing as culture and society — which provide their context — change.“ Which demonstrates the challenge of compiling a list of “best” young adult novels of “all time” especially when neither terms are defined.

Currently, young adult literature is defined most often as being written for teenagers from 12-18 years of age. These are often coming-of-age stories, where characters come to an understanding about not only themselves, but their place in the world. They can be dark and gritty, and when appropriate, contain violence and sex. In contrast, middle grade fiction, aimed at readers 8-12, focuses more on character’s relationship with self and family, spend less time on self-reflection, and almost always end on a hopeful note. And of course, young adult fiction differs from adult fiction, not only because the protagonists are teenagers themselves, but the voice and style of the narrative is more immediate, while adult fiction where teenagers are the main characters often have a reflective tone.



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