Every year, I like to dive into the “best of” lists and look at the similarities and differences between and among the lists. More, I think it’s worthwhile to dig into what the books that comprise these lists do or don’t have within them — how diverse are they, how are they representing sexuality, what sort of gender make up are the characters and authors, and so forth. Because the “best of” lists offer a glimpse into the year of reading for YA, this is an interesting and worthwhile way to see what is and isn’t happening.
This is the fourth year I’ve done this, and previous data sets can be found here, here, and here. I do plan on looking through them all and comparing across years, since I am curious whether things are looking any differently now in 2014 than they were in 2011. Look for that in the next week or so.
To look at the numbers, I broke apart the “best of” YA lists from the following professional publications: Kirkus, Horn Book, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. In previous years, I also used Library Journal’s lists — first a “Best YA” list, then a “Best YA for Adult Readers” list — but they didn’t have one this year. From those lists, I pulled out only the YA fiction, meaning that they were titles designated for those readers 12-18. I did not include graphic memoirs, though I did include graphic novels when they were fiction. In the past I’ve eliminated graphic novels, but this year there were only two, so I kept them. This led to a total of 55 titles being tallied in the data. There were 59 authors considered here, as well. I included translators and illustrators in the author category because their work is as important and worth considering. When I get into the charts and designations, there will be further notes about this, as I could not track down information I’d hoped to and had to leave it out in some places.
Using my own knowledge from reading the books or reviews, I determined whether books featured a main character or main arc that included LGBTQ themes. I double-checked that data with Malinda Lo, who will be posting her 2014 round-up of the year in LGBTQ YA this week. I also looked at whether main characters were people of color or an author was a person of color, as determined through my own reading, reviews, and/or easily researched information. I did have to ask about a couple books and authors, and that information was verified for me. In addition to these analytical pieces, I’ve made notes in my data where other elements of diversity were part of a story; this includes mental illness, disabilities, minor roles for characters of color, and so forth. I did not tabulate this data, but it is all available to look at in my giant spreadsheet. Because writing out titles would make this post very, very long, I encourage having that open while looking at the data, as it’ll make referencing which books were counted where easier.
All information about starred reviews came through Jen J’s exceptionally well-done spreadsheet. There is one note to make about this, which is that I also went through Horn Book’s January/February starred reviews to be completist about it, which led to one title on this list having an additional star yet to be noted on her spreadsheet.
As always, caveats: none of this data means anything. I’ve not tried to draw conclusions or suggest certain things about the books that popped up on these lists. Errors here in terms of counting, in how I’ve marked books LGBTQ or POC are my own, and so forth, are all my own. Since I haven’t read all of these books, some of these are educated guesses.
Now…what do those “best of 2014” YA fiction lists look like this year?
Gender Representation In “Best Of” Lists
When it comes to male and female authors, who has more slots on the “best of” lists?
Nothing can be made from this data. It doesn’t mean anything, especially pulled from its context. But nevertheless, it’s interesting to look at and speculate upon because it does give a glimpse into the year of YA as deemed by professionals and experts on YA.
Were there any surprises in this data? Any titles that did or didn’t make the lists that were curious?
One thing I keep wondering about and have zero explanation for — and would love to read some theories about — is why Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle earned more acclaim from review journals and “best of” lists than his second release this year, 100 Sideways Miles, which was a title on the National Book Awards long list. I thought it was a more accomplished, literary, and full novel (not to mention it portrayed females as actual dynamic characters, rather than as props for use by the male heroes). It was surprising Smith didn’t have both books pop up on these “best of” lists.