ALA Wrap-Up: Books We’ll Still Talk About 45 Years From Now

The year is 2057 and President Justin Bieber* has finally lifted the 2013 ban on young adult literature. It has been 45 years since anyone has written or read any teen books, so President Bieber has selected the esteemed young adult librarian Rollie Welch to gather a team of librarians to choose one YA title from before the ban which is still relevant to teens of 2057. And so it is that I and 40 or so other librarians are summoned to a small conference room in Anaheim, California. Rollie has chosen 30 possible contenders, divided into six rounds of five books each. We divide into six small groups of 5-8. Each group is to choose one book from each round and the book with the most votes from the six groups continues to the final showdown. Our charge made clear, we dig in for a grueling debate.

Round One

In the first round, we debate the following titles:

  • The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My group quickly declares Stroud’s brilliant novel too divisive in its humor; John Green is called a passing fad**; and Asher’s novel is seen as potentially great but flawed by imperfect execution. And so my group quickly narrows in on a match-up between The Graveyard Book and Speak. We reach consensus that The Graveyard Book is possibly more timeless in its fairy tale qualities, but that Speak is the better written book, and (unfortunately) likely to continue to be highly relevant in its themes of sexual abuse and high school ostracism. Three groups disagree with us, one voting for Looking for Alaska, one for Samarkand, and one for 13 Reasons Why, but Speak gets the other two votes and moves to the finals.

Round Two

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • East by Edith Pattou
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers

My group again quickly homes in on two books: The Absolutely True Diary and Monster. We concur that the graphic novel is likely to be the most relevant format to teens of 2057 but agree that Blankets is not the format’s best representative. We also unanimously agree that East is a beautiful, powerful novel, but place it aside as a difficult book to get teens, especially young men, to read. With Holes, we are swayed by a group member’s argument that Sachar’s rich, funny novel is written for too young an audience to be relevant to all teens of the future. And so we debate between the two novels about race, eventually deciding that the innovative screenplay format and tantalizingly unresolved ending of Monster outweigh the dark humor and beautiful prose of Sherman Alexie. Again two groups agree with us, with two votes going to Alexie and one to Holes. Monster enters the finals***.

Round 3

  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Outsiders by SE Hinton

In round three we are outvoted by the other groups for the first time. We agree with the apparent consensus (based on the final vote) that Crank is not truly lasting literature and that The Golden Compass is slightly young. My group finds The Outsiders to be hopelessly dated in 2012, let alone 2057, but two groups disagree. We are the only group to vote for The Hunger Games, arguing that even once its reality TV trappings have become passé, its socio-political commentary will remain. We find The Book Thief to be too dense and perhaps overshadowed by the abundance of YA novels about World War II and the Holocaust, but three groups disagree and send it to the finals.

Round 4

  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

In round four, my group finds Ender’s Game and Harry Potter to be slightly too young, and over my objections, we dismiss Mackler’s novel as too light-weight. A long discussion rages over the eternal beauty and dense power of Mockingbird vs. the agonizing teen-truth of Chbosky. In the end we and two other groups find ourselves unable to ignore the already 50+-year-old sway of Atticus and Scout. Two votes go to Ender’s Game and one to Harry Potter, but Mockingbird continues on.

Round 5

  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

For the first time, my group finds itself completely blindsided by the final vote. We spend our allotted 15 minutes extolling the unending virtues of Libba Bray and the beautiful language and powerful feminism of her first novel, virtually ignoring the other nominees. When the votes come in, every other group votes for The Giver, a novel my group found too young.

Round 6

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  • Nation by Terry Pratchett

Members of our group make dutiful comments about the merits of each of these books (my dutiful comments go to Nation), but none of us seem to doubt for a second that we will vote for Twain, entranced by his novel’s intricate themes and clear staying power. One group agrees, another votes for Hatchet, but three groups vote for The First Part Last and it moves into the finals.

Finals

In the finals each group is allowed to add up to two write-in candidates, but not one of these garners a vote. The final list looks like this:

  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Write-ins****:

  • The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
  • Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (my group’s nominee)
  • A Child Called It by Richard Pelzer
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  • Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Our group decides on a voting method based on the Newbery committee: each of us votes for our top three, with our first place getting three points, our second two, and our third one. Mockingbird garners three first place votes, and Monster gets votes from four of our members, but every one of us puts Speak on our ballot (with three first place votes) and it wins our vote in a landslide. The other groups give a vote to The Giver, one to Mockingbird, two to The Book Thief, and one more to Speak. And so our afternoon comes to a close with the two-way tie between The Book Thief and Speak being submitted to President Bieber (or possibly Timberlake) for distribution to all American teens of 2057.

— Mark Flowers, currently reading (and loving) The Diviners by Libba Bray

* Since we librarians had apparently been summoned from the past, we were confused as to how a Canadian could be President of the United States. There was considerable discussion over whether there had been a Constitutional Amendment, or Canada and the United States had become a single country. Some among us argued that Rollie was mistaken and that the name of the president was Justin Timberlake.

** It is possible that your loyal correspondent made this particular comment. Nerdfighters: please be kind.

*** I note in passing that Monster and Speak were winner and honor book of the first Printz awards, as well as both being National Book Award finalists.  It fascinates me that these two books from 1999 seem to share some sort of connection as wellsprings of YA literature.

**** My notes appear to be partially damaged at this point, and there may have been a few more write-in votes, but as I mentioned, none got a final vote.

One thought on “ALA Wrap-Up: Books We’ll Still Talk About 45 Years From Now”

  1. Thanks – nice write-up. Of course I’m partial to The First Part Last, but agree with all the final choices.

Comments are closed.