Who are these “young adults” anyway?

My mom sent me an NPR article today that she thought I’d like called: “Best-Ever Teen Novels? Vote for Your Favorites.” It appears that NPR, in its quest of all things knowledgeable and cultural (no idea if that is NPR’s actual mission statement but it seems pretty accurate, right?), asked its readers a few weeks ago for nominations for the best teen novels and has now compiled the list of 235 finalists for the public to vote on.

The problem with the category of teen novels/young adult fiction is that it is really, really hard to define what makes a book “teen” or “young adult.” Is it the age of the reader? Is it whether or not it is part of the high school curriculum? Is it topic? Is it popularity?

This is further complicated by the fact that some precocious book-loving children (cough, yours truly, cough) might gravitate toward adult novels at an earlier age. I’m pretty sure I was reading stuff that was way, way over my head by the time I hit high school. And despite the fact that I’m now 25, I still enjoy Harry Potter. Obviously. And, some of the books that teenagers are forced to read in high school English class are not teen literature at all–but they do enjoy a certain level of popularity since nearly everyone has read them.

Ultimately, NPR redeems itself by deciding to define this category as “books that teenagers and young people voluntarily read.” I more or less agree with this. Though again to nitpick/complain: what is the age definition here for young people? Am I still a young person even though I’m 25? Argh so vague. Anyway, moving on.

My 10 favorites from this list (and you can bet your butt that I voted) are:

  • Anne of Green Gables (series), by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Betsy-Tacy Books (series), by Maud Hart Lovelace
  • The Giver (series), by Lois Lowry
  • His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
  • Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins
  • The Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
  • A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle

I’m a re-reader, so I’ve read all of these books numerous times. They’re the ones that I go back to when I’m feeling sad, or down, or bored. It’s impossible to be sad or down or bored reading any of these books, which is maybe a better indication of “young adult” than anything else. Young adult is that category of book that takes you back to when you were a young adult. Yes, you were dealing with a lot of emotions, but you also had less responsibility, more time for your mind to wander and be creative, and you had the eternal optimism of youth. I think these books bring that feeling back. Take that, NPR.

Go vote for your favorites! If I missed one that you absolutely love, let me know. I’d love to read it 🙂

Blog Note: Speaking of that youthful feeling, where is the “Little House on the Prairie” series in NPR’s list? Gross oversight on their part. Laura Ingalls Wilder is the best–I gobbled up her stories from almost the moment I could hold a book.


Additional Blog Note: My friend Alix is a guest writer for the blog Forever Young Adult, where (given the title) I’m sure they have very strong opinions about the books on NPR’s list. I’d be curious to see which books they would vote for.


2 thoughts on “Who are these “young adults” anyway?

  1. Great picks!

    You’re right. It’s hard to exactly define what young adult books are. The best definition I’ve come across is young adult books are about the experience of being a young adult.

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