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31 Days of Teens’ Top Ten: Hale and Bray Were Absolutely Captivating

Welcome to 31 Days of Teens’ Top Ten! Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in fifteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.  Each day during the month of May, The Hub will feature a post about Teens’ Top Ten.  Be sure to check in daily as we visit past winners and current nominees!

YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten has been around since 2003, so I decided to take a look back through past winners, which turned out to be a book trip down memory lane.  When I looked at the 2004 list two books jumped out at me immediately: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Both are books that I read and loved when they came out.

Bray’s story includes supernatural elements, a boarding school, a clique, and a mystery–an absolutely winning combination.  Gemma is sent to a spooky boarding school in England, after having lived in India with her mother.  At the school Gemma gets caught up with a group of powerful girls who wield their snobby power over her.  It turns out that Gemma is the one with the mystical connection that they crave.  As I read the story it played out like a vivid movie in my mind, and I was completely caught up in it.  What went on in that secret wing of the building? Who was the mysterious man Gemma kept seeing? What was this power she had? Teens loved the thrilling bits of dabbling in the occult, as well as the power struggles between the teen girls.
Power struggles of a different kind featured heavily in The Goose Girl.  This is one of Hale’s signature beautifully retold tellings of a fairy tale.  Betrayed by those closest to her Ani must rename herself and become a goose tender as she hides from those who would hurt her.  Ani is a very strong girl who is definitely not a weak princess character.  Yes, she falls in love, but with her prince they become a powerful team fighting against the bad guys.  This was a perfect combination of romance and adventure.

But more importantly, I remember these books as, indeed, being very popular with the teens in my library.  If A Great and Terrible Beauty was checked in I always displayed it face out-that cover! So alluring and such a standout.  It was immediately attractive to teenage girls.  It was a book that for many months was a go-to recommendation.  And at the end of the year, teens voted and proved what everyone had been seeing-A Great and Terrible Beauty was indeed a top ten book for teens in 2004.

The Goose Girl was less of an obvious sensation to me.  It had a quieter following, but was a huge hit with the right reader.  Girls who liked fairy tales were an obvious audience, but I also recommended this title to romance readers, adventure readers, and those teens who told me they were just “looking for a good book.”  This tale of a girl determined to secure her rightful place, who has special abilities to communicate with animals, and is a strong heroine was a solid story that drew readers into the richly detailed fairytale kingdom the author created.  I was so pleased when it made the Teens’ Top Ten, proving that teens did like well crafted, engrossing stories, even if they weren’t flashy.

You can take a peek at the other winning titles from 2004 here.  In the meantime, if these titles passed you by the first time around, why not give them a try now? I guarantee they are absolutely captivating.  But don’t take my word for it, take the word of the hundreds of teens who voted them a 2004 Teens’ Top Ten title!

–Sarah Debraski, currently reading How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neal

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Sarah Debraski

One Comment

  1. The Libba Bray books were very hot but have died down a bit. Thanks for bringing them back for us so that we can start recommending them again. I thought that there was supposed to be a movie about this series but it didn’t materialize- or I just didn’t notice.

    The picture (a corset) on the front of the first book, A Great and Terrible Beauty, tells about the restrictions of women in the Victorian times- as does the story of one of the characters who has an arranged marriage. The girls in this series have to deal with cliques and other things that are also current day problems in school.

    The second book gets a little deeper and more dark but overall it is an interesting series that even adults will like. It might also be a good book club choice for summer.

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