Welcome to the third annual “Best of YA” list break down. Since 2011, I’ve gone through the “best of” lists developed by the biggest trade review journals and pulled together some statistics about those books. Which ones have repeat appearances? Is there a gender representation difference in the books deemed the best? What do we see in terms of POC, LGBTQ representation, and lots more.
This year, I wanted to look at a number of factors like I did last year, and it requires more than one post to do so. Because I still had all of my data from last year pulled into a single space (I did not in 2011, where all of my information was posted in another forum), I’ve written third post as well, comparing the data from last year against this year’s. They will publish today, tomorrow, and on Thursday.
The “best of” lists I looked at this year are the same ones I analyzed last year: School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Horn Book, and the Library Journal list of Best YA for Adults. I like to look at that last one, the YA for Adults, because I think it’s worth keeping an eye on and comparing with the lists that are geared less toward adults — are there crossover titles? Are there different titles completely? It adds another flavor to the data.
Because they come out a little bit later, I have not looked at the best of lists from Booklist nor BCCB, though it’s possible I may look at them comparatively in the new year (BCCB’s list comes out in January and Booklist’s should be out this week, either prior to this post or after it). I limited what I looked at to YA fiction only. This means no graphic novels (though if you’re curious, the graphic novels which made this combination of lists include Boxers and Saints, on all five of the lists; Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant on two of the lists; Will & Whit on one of the lists; Romeo & Juliet on one of the lists; and March on one of the lists) and I did not include non-fiction titles (of which there were very few).
I made my determination on whether a book was a YA book or not based on the criteria that Amazon listed it as a book for those age 12 and older. This meant some books which have been debated as being “for YA readers or not,” like Tom McNeal’s Far, Far Away, were indeed included in my count. I did not include illustrators for books that feature graphic or illustrative elements in my author counts or breakdowns.
Though more relevant to tomorrow’s post than today’s, I pulled my information about starred reviews from ShelfTalker’s last updated “The Stars So Far” post; since this was last updated in mid-November, it’s possible some of these titles may have earned additional stars since then. Information about LGBTQ representation in these books was pulled from Malinda Lo’s tallying, along with notes I’ve made to myself on the books I have read.
Before diving in, some caveats: none of this data means anything. I’m not trying to draw conclusions nor suggest certain things about the books that popped up on the “best of” lists. Errors here in terms of counts, in my decision to list a book as featuring a POC, in my tallying of MCs by gender, and so forth, are all my own. I have not read all of these books, so sometimes, I had to make an educated guess based on reviews I read. Tomorrow, I’ll link to all of my raw data in the introduction.
There were a total of 55 books on these lists, 55 authors, and a total of 62 main characters, as some books were told through more than one point of view.
With that, let’s see what there is to see in this year’s “Best of YA” lists.
Gender Representation in the “Best of” Lists
First, let’s look at gender and the “best of” lists. Do we have more male authors represented or do we have more female authors?
There were a total of 55 authors represented on all of the “best of lists,” with 14 being male and 41 being female. In other words, roughly three-quarters of the authors this year were female, while one-quarter were male. This is a really interesting breakdown, considering that the breakdown by author gender on the New York Times Lists (in this post and this post) showed something different.
One of the comments I received on my New York Times post breakdowns was that it would be interesting to look at the main character genders in the books listed. Since I didn’t look at that element in those posts, I thought I’d give it a shot with the “best of” lists this year.
As noted, there are more main characters than there are authors, so this is out of a total of 62 characters. Again, not having read all of the books, this is based on my best guesses having read through many reviews of the titles listed. I counted main characters as those who have a voice in the story. I did not include the Marcus Sedgwick book, since it is a collection of short stories and not having read it, making a call was impossible.
This chart tells quite a bit of a different story than the one above. Of the 62 main characters, 29 were male, and 33 were female. The percentages are much closer to even when we look at main character gender rather than look at the author’s gender alone.
There are a couple of questions to think about with this: Did we have much better male-led stories this year? Or do we tend to take male-led stories as “better” than those led by female? This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot, as it’s something impossible not to think about. Female-led stories tend to have more romance in them, and it’s possible we have a bias against romance. Worthwhile readings on this topic are this post and this post over at Crossreferencing.
Again, I’m making no conclusions here, but I think these are questions worth thinking about. It does make me want to revisit my NYT analysis now and look at the gender of the main character, especially as some people took problem with the fact there was more male representation when it came to author appearance on the list. I have a suspicion that looking at the gender of the main characters of those books wouldn’t actually change my findings very much.
Debut Authors vs. More Seasoned Authors
What kind of break down is there between new authors and those who are on their second, fifth, or twentieth book? Are there more books by authors who’ve done their time on the “best of” lists or more by debut authors?
I am a purist when defining “debut.” These are first books. They are not first YA books. I did not hold published short stories or poems against debut status, as long as the book on the “best of” list was the author’s first novel. In other words, Alaya Dawn Johnson is not a debut author, despite The Summer Prince being her first YA book.
There were a total of 11 debut novels on the lists, making up 20% of the total. The other 44 novels were by authors who had previously published a novel.
What about gender of the debut author?
Of the 11 debut authors, nine were female and two were male.
Continuing to talk a bit about the debut novelists who made the list, how do the Morris Shortlist authors compare? Of the five books on the Morris list, three of those books saw themselves on any of the five “best of” lists: Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence, which made both Kirkus and PW’s “best of” list, In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters made SLJ’s list, and Evan Roskos’s Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, which made the Kirkus list. That’s more than half.
“Best Of” by Genre
It’s tough to decide what book belongs in what genre. There are some which could go more than one way (especially when it comes to historical and fantasy, as some could go either way easily). Again, since I haven’t read all of the books on this list, I had to pull some of my decisions from reviews, as well as from talking with those who have read the book. In short: decisions are subjective, but they’re based on research.
I broke down my categories as broadly as possible. Thus, “realistic” is a category and not contemporary, for the sake of putting books like Eleanor & Park into what might be the best place for it to fit. I considered Far, Far Away to be fantasy, rather than paranormal, as I determined paranormal a category best suited for a story featuring a creature, rather than a spirit. I know it’s a bit arbitrary.
Did one genre do better than another this year when it came to best of lists? Let’s take a look.
Turns out that realistic fiction led other genres in “best of” lists this year. Out of a total of 55 books, 24 were realistic fiction. Historical had 13, with fantasy 10, science fiction 5, paranormal 2, and short stories 1.
Perhaps there’s something to the suggestion there has been a growth in realistic fiction this year. This is something I may try to tackle in a series of posts next week about trends in 2014 fiction because I think it’s better said there might be a rise in a certain type of realistic fiction coming up.
Books by “Best of” List Frequency
How many books saw themselves on more than one “best of” list this year? Even though the staff of the journals choose their titles by vote (usually), it’s always curious to be to see what trends emerge in titles that appear more than once. Do those very early lists like School Library Journal’s in November influence those which appear later? Or more realistically, do awards like the National Book Award or the Horn Book/Boston Globe Book Award put titles onto radars as possible “best of” picks? What influences what, if anything?
It’s worth noting here — and I’ll repeat it again in the next posts — that the journals each choose a different number of “best of” titles. And with my criteria listed in the beginning of this post to define “YA Fiction,” the number of titles eligible shifted, too. Kirkus had 42 titles, School Library Journal had 13, LJ’s “YA for Adults” had 3, Horn Book had 5, and Publishers Weekly had 16. Again, I’ll come back to these totals in future posts.
Within the five lists, there were no books which appeared on all five. Only one book saw itself on four of the lists, and that was Eleanor & Park. It did not make the “Best YA for Adults” list by SLJ, though Rowell’s other book, Fangirl, did make that list.
There were five books which appeared on three lists, eleven books which appeared on two lists, and a total of thirty-eight books which appeared on one list.
The bulk of this year’s “best of” titles only showed up on one list.
“Best of” Titles by Book Format
This year seemed to be the year of novels with a twist to their format, and I think that some of the data on the “best of” list reflects that. Though this, too, is interesting to compare to last year’s list. Were there any verse novels this year? What about books told with a graphic-hybridization? What about sketches or illustrations that weren’t quite at graphic novel style or what about those mixed media projects?
It’s not surprising that standard novels made up the majority of format for storytelling. Forty-nine of the books on this list were your average novel (which isn’t a means of degrading novels as “average,” but rather suggesting they aren’t doing anything noteworthy in format). There were three novels this year that included some kind of illustrative element to them that stood out, including Maggot Moon, Winger, and The War Within These Walls. There was on graphic novel hybrid with Chasing Shadows, one mixed media novel with In The Shadow of Blackbirds, and one short story collection, Midwinterblood.
There were no novels in verse represented this year.
Diversity and “Best Of” Lists
Two topics I wanted to look at within the “best of” lists included representation of LGBTQ and POC. Again, standard disclaimers that I haven’t read all of these books, and I pulled data from my own research (as well as the linked-to blog post above from Malinda Lo).
First, let’s talk about LGBTQ and the “best of” lists. How many stories featured characters whose sexuality was discussed or a major part of the book? I’m looking strictly at the books and stories, rather than authors, because it’s challenging to make that determination and, I think, unfair to make it, too.
Five Books featured characters who identified as LGBTQ. These books were:
- More Than This by Patrick Ness
- The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick
- Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
- Winger by Andrew Smith (minor character)
- Zero Fade by Chris L. Terry
What about books written by or featuring people of color? This one is easier to make a determination of when it comes to author, so I’m breaking this town into two data sets: by author and by character in a book. Remember there are 55 authors and 62 main characters represented.
Authors who are POC on the “Best of” lists: 8. I did include Myers twice in the count, since he had two different books on the list.
Main characters who are POC on the “Best of” lists: 10, with one story featuring a secondary character who is a POC.
Those authors and books (some of which are written by a POC about a POC) are:
- Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
- Zero Fade by Chris L. Terry
- Invasion by Walter Dean Myers
- Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan
- Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frencie Garcia by Jenny Torres-Sanchez
- Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers
- Champion by Marie Lu
- The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
- The Counterfeit Family of Vee Crawford-Wong by L Tam Howard
- A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury
- Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi
- Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
Country of Origin and “Best of” Lists
I wanted to round up today’s post and data by looking at something I did not look at last year, which is the country of origin of the author. Do authors who aren’t from the US fair well on our “best of” lists? Do they tend to do better than US authors?
I’ve got three categories for this data: US born and still living in the US; foreign born and foreign living; and I have a small number of US ex-pats. Here’s the breakdown:
Editing to add that Malinda Lo has some really great observation and commentary about LGBTQ as represented on this year’s “Best of” lists. Go check it out.