My name is Becky and I have a confession: I am a YA writer who is shamefully un-read in the classics of my own category. I’ve never read The Outsiders. I’ve never read A Separate Peace. And while I have read The Catcher in the Rye, it was only grudgingly for class, and I hated it.
A little of this is because my school didn’t teach some of these. Mostly, though, it’s because I’ve always been drawn way more to genre books than contemporary (or books that were contemporary when they were written, decades ago). I like my pacing zippy and my stakes and conflicts well defined — in fact, that’s probably why I’m so drawn to genre fiction. But the fact of the matter is, it’s actually kiiiiind of embarrassing to know so little about the big deals my own category.
But hey, there’s no time like the present to catch up! So I’m going to. And because this is the internet, I’m inviting you all to join what I’m gonna call my YA Classics Catch Up Blogathon, in which I’m going to attempt to read one classic a month and then blog about it, for the next fifteen months.
Why attempt? Because I am a terrible blogger. But hopefully I’m more stubborn about projects than I am terrible at blogging. We’ll see!
Why fifteen? I dunno, it seemed like good number; big enough to give me a decent chunk of books, small enough to be manageable.
So that’s the plan. This may end up being a book club of just me, but I’ll be posting my thoughts here at the end of every month (starting with #1 at the beginning of May), and I’d love for anyone who’s interested to read the book and share your thoughts, too, either here in a comment, or in a blog post I can link to.
|Little Women||Louisa May Alcott||1868|
|A Tree Grows in Brooklyn||Betty Smith||1943|
|The Catcher in the Rye||J.D. Salinger||1951|
|A Separate Peace||John Knowles||1959|
|A Wrinkle in Time||Madeline L’Engle||1962|
|The Outsiders||S.E. Hinton||1967|
|Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret||Judy Blume||1970|
|Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry||Mildred D. Taylor||1976|
|Annie On My Mind||Nancy Garden||1982|
|Speak||Laurie Halse Anderson||2001|
|American Born Chinese||Gene Luen Yang||2006|
|The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian||Sherman Alexie||2007|
|The Fault In Our Stars||John Green||2012|
|The Hate U Give||Angie Thomas||2017|
About the list:
I came up with this list by using the very scientific method of googling “List of YA classics” and checking out a bunch of the lists that came up in the results. I looked at six lists and noted down every title each time it appeared, and figured the books that appeared on multiple lists were a good starting point. That narrowed it down from about 70 to 25. I then picked my final 15 by considering a) which books I was the most interested in, b) which books were by marginalized writers, and c) which ones I’d read before.
I’m pretty happy with the results — and I’m really interested in how some of the dates clump together. I know what brought about the early-aughts success of YA (Harry Potter opening up the market, mostly) but I’m curious about the 70s. I would have sort of expected a larger wave of YA classics in the 60s, which is looked back on as a decade in which youth culture exploded and changed so rapidly… but maybe it took awhile for publishing to reflect that, or maybe 60s teens needed to grow up and start writing first. Or maybe it was the rise of women’s lib in the 70s foreshadowing how YA would become a very woman-driven category. Or maybe that’s all totally off base and I will have a better idea once I’ve, you know, read those books! (Or maybe it’s all because of my completely arbitrary decisions and there will be no thesis statement down the line.)
And yes, I know that some of these books skew a bit younger than others. Before the early-aughts YAspolosion, the line between MG and YA was a lot fuzzier since it was all basically all shelved as juvenile literature. I tried to err towards what would likely be considered YA by current standards, but didn’t want to miss out on some of the classics from before that split was more clearly delineated.
Finally, yeah, I did include a book from 2017 on that list. And only partially because I really want to read it.1 I figure any book that’s about such a clear and vital moment in time, that’s a major #ownvoices success, that was sold at auction and immediately optioned as a movie, and also got eight starred review and has (thus far) reached and stayed at #1 on the NYT best sellers list since it came out, is probably going to count as a classic in just a few years.
Hey, but what about…
Narrowing down this list was really hard. There are a few titles that came up on most of the lists that I looked at that I didn’t choose to include.
To Kill A Mockingbird: this was on five out of six lists, and for good reason — it is a classic, and though there’s been some vital criticism of it, it is often considered one of the greatest American novels of all time, YA or otherwise. But I’ve already read it. A few times. And recently enough that I remember it, which can’t be said for the few re-read titles I did include. So when I was tightening the list, I decided to remove it in favor of including another writer of color on the list. I think TKAM will do fine without me, somehow.
Go Ask Alice: I was actually kind of psyched about reading the archetypal Teenage Problem Novel! But I already had a spread of books from the 70s so decided to give it a pass.
The Chocolate War: Weirdly, I have never had any experience with this book. I’d heard the title but had literally no idea what it was about until I was researching for this project. Maybe my school just didn’t have it? My class certainly never read it. Anyway, it looks like it is probably excellent, but when I was looking at books from the 80s and running out of slots I decided on Annie On My Mind instead, because I’d rather read a f/f classic.
90s books: The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Giver, The Golden Compass: all of those were actually in my mind when I first started thinking about this list, since I think I’m more aware of what’s beloved by my peers (who would have read these as they came out, mostly) than by previous generations. But while they’re all some level of beloved, and certainly all made a splash, I decided to skip them in favor of the post-YAsplosion titles.
Speaking of which, Twilight and The Hunger Games, YA titles whose importance really can’t be overstated. I passed on THG because I’ve read it, and on Twilight because I’m pretty confident that it wouldn’t be my jam, and frankly, I don’t think there are any original thoughts left to have about it. Everything has already been said.
And that’s it! Let me know if you have any questions, and I will see you in a month or so!
- Between creating this list and posting it, my library hold came in, so I will definitely have read it by next year… ↩