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2012 “Best of” Lists by the Numbers

Last year on The Hub, I broke down the “best of” lists by a number of different factors. I’m doing it again this year, and I’ve again included a graphs for your viewing pleasure.

I documented the titles appearing on Horn Book, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly‘s “best of” lists. Last year, I did not include information from Library Journal, but I have decided to include it this year (though note that Library Journal’s “best of” list for YA titles is called Best Young Adult Literature for Adults).

There are a number of important comments to make before showing off the data. First, I limited myself to fiction titles. They’re easier to track information about. I did not include graphic novels nor short story collections — this disqualified only 5 titles from my list. Likewise, I ensured all titles were marketed for young adults, age 12 and older. I verified all information through Edelweiss, and in the small number of titles unavailable to find on Edelweiss, I relied on Amazon or trade journal reviews. All genre categorizations are based on my own knowledge/reading of a title, or they’re based upon the most common terms in Edelweiss. I collapsed many genres together for simplicity. This is the most subjective portion of the breakdown, and it is further explained beneath that data set.

There are a total of 89 titles and 90 authors being considered in the data. Like last year, these stats aren’t meant to prove anything; rather, they give a different way to think about the year in YA fiction. I’m a data nerd, so I love looking at the numbers and seeing patterns among them.

The first data I looked at was the breakdown of authors by gender.

Of the 90 authors on the list, there were 72 female authors and 18 male authors. This 80/20 split definitely showcases women writers having a majority in earning “best of” honors this year. Even if this is the case, it’s hardly proof of anything except that perhaps more women were publishing in YA this year. Because of how time-consuming and challenging it is to break down 90 books by the gender of their protagonists, I didn’t, but it would be an interesting set to look at. Take this breakdown with a grain of salt and remember it when Youth Media Awards are presented in January — if you read this incredible post about gender and book awards, it should put the gender breakdown above into context, too.

Since I have an interest in debut novelists, I looked at what the percentage of debut authors against more seasoned authors was. I defined debut novelist in the same way the Morris Award committee does, which means that Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is a debut novel (her self-published Amy Unbounded did not affect her eligibility for the award, and therefore, I won’t count it against her debut status here, either).

That looks just like the gender breakdown, doesn’t it? This year, there were 72 non-debut authors and 18 debut authors represented on the “best of” lists. This proportion isn’t too different from the one in 2011, where roughly 25% of the “best of” authors were debut novelists.

For kicks, I decided to then combine these two data sets and look at the gender breakdown of debut novelists.

Of the 18 debut novelists, 3 were men and 15 were women.

The next set of data I explored is the one that’s most subjective and easily arguable: genre. Last year, I did a more thorough exploration of genre, but this year, I didn’t get the chance to delve in as deeply as I wish I could. Actually, that’s not true. The truth is, this year’s books blended so many genres at times it was impossible to extract a single definition (can you easily place The Diviners, which involves magic, horror, historical elements, and a mystery or, say, Grave Mercy, which is set in a historical period but involves elements of fantasy?). What I chose to do instead was create five large genres: realistic, which is pretty straight forward; historical, which are realistic novels not set in today’s world (meaning those books purposefully set in the 1980s and 1990s are historical); science fiction, which includes dystopia; fantasy, which includes traditional fantasy, horror, magical realism, historical fantasy, paranormal and supernatural; and mystery/thriller, which includes mysteries set in a historical setting (as long as the mystery was the driving force).

Fantasy was the overwhelming genre for “best of” lists this year, with a total of 35 books falling in that category. Realistic fiction had 26 books within the genre, followed by historical with 12, science fiction with 11, and mystery/thriller with 5. This is interesting, especially in light of what many thought was a very dystopia-heavy publishing year. If anything, it seems like this was the year of genre blending — many books blurred the lines between fantasy and historical fiction, especially.

So how about the number of lists a single book may have made? In other words, did some books make multiple lists? Were there any that made every list? Four out of five? Just one? Here’s a look at that data:

Though the chart itself only shows two percentage values — the first for the number of book that only appeared on one list and the second for those on two lists — it should be obvious that the majority of books only made one appearance (68 total). There were 10 books that made two lists, followed by 5 books on three lists. There were 5 books that made four lists, including The Diviners by Libba Bray, Ask the Passengers by A.S. King, The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan, No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Nelson, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. You read that correctly: it wasn’t Green’s book that made all five lists. That honor went to Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity.

A couple of other interesting notes to make on this year’s “best of” lists data: there were 2 novels written in verse (My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt and The Good Braider by Terry Farish), as well as six books that tackled LGBTQ storylines head on (while there are books like Bitterblue where there are LGBTQ-related subplots, I counted only titles like A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers where that theme is most under exploration). Also worth noting is that this year’s Kirkus list was significantly larger than last year’s. In 2011, there were a total of 42 titles picked as “best of” in the teen category. This year, there were 100.

By no means does this information mean much, but like I mentioned last year, it’s still interesting to look at because these “best of” lists represent a year of YA fiction in some capacity. Books that we heard a lot of really good buzz about are books that made many lists — just look at the Wein, the Bray, and the Green titles, for example. There were debut novels that caught the attention of journal editors, and without doubt, women authors made a strong showing of talent this year. The distribution of titles across the lists also suggests there are a wide range of titles and voices out there that are considered “the best” of the year. These lists encompass those bigger buzz titles, as well as titles like Marissa Meyer’s Cinder and Lauren Oliver’s Pandemonium, which have high commercial appeal.

You can see all my raw data on this public Google Doc.

I’ll be keeping track this year of what books that appeared on these “best of” lists also appear in YALSA’s Printz rankings. As it stands, all five of the Morris finalists found themselves on “best of” lists (though it should be noted that Kirkus’s list was drafted by a member of the Morris committee — and all five titles appear together on that list). It will be fascinating to see whether YALSA’s Printz committee members agree or disagree with these “best of” lists and just how much they do or do not.

— Kelly Jensen, currently reading Susan Vaught’s Freaks Like Us


  1. Sara Ray Sara Ray

    Maybe it’s the librarian “geek” in me but I love seeing the statistics presented like this! Especially about one of my favorite things — teen reading! Thanks Kelly!

  2. evan evan

    thanks for all the work on this post. Very fascinating. I’ll definitely come back to see how the Printz numbers affect things.

  3. Emily Calkins Emily Calkins

    Thanks for this post, Kelly! It’s always interesting to take a look at the bigger picture in terms of trends, themes, etc.

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