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2013 “Best of” Lists by the Numbers

“Best of…” lists are all over the place this time of year, leading librarians to mad end-of-year purchasing sprees and readers to bookstores with holiday gift shopping inspiration. The titles under consideration here came from The Horn Book, School Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal’s Best of YA Lit for Adults.

Before we begin, I want to acknowledge Kelly Jensen (@catagator) who wrote this post in 2011 and 2012. (And who continues her fearless analysis at Stacked.) Her posts are inspirational and I can only stumble along after her, a pale imitation.

To set limits and keep things manageable, I only included books that were fiction and marketed to people ages 12 and older. Cutting out nonfiction and memoirs only eliminated four titles overall. I included graphic novels and graphic hybrids because:

  • there were not so many
  • it is interested to see the growing mainstream popularity of books that include illustrations
  • and “one” such book, Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints, was the only title to be on all five lists

I felt the Printz-winning author could not be left off. Also, I am non-scientifically counting Boxers and Saints as one title.

I used Edelweiss and Amazon and various publishers’ websites to help me determine the age a title was marketed to and what it was marketed as, genre-wise. The genre labels here either come from Edelweiss or from my own knowledge of the book. To make the various charts, and to make sorting the spreadsheets easier, I collapsed genres and kept only seven: fantasy, realistic, science fiction, historical fiction, mystery, horror, and graphic fiction. These are totally subjective, by the way.

There are 64 titles we are looking at here. This is down from 89 from last year. Let the discussions and arguments about what that means for quality YA literature begin!

Breaking things down by gender, we see that almost three quarters of the list comes from female authors.


There are 47 women and 16 men represented. This gender breakdown echoes last year, when women also dominated the lists. Who knows what this means, except perhaps more women are writing YA literature these days. There is plenty of discussion out there regarding gender in YA lit (like Maureen Johnson’s Coverflip challenge). For this post, we’re just looking at raw numbers.

Let us next consider debut authors. The Morris list was just announced, and three of those authors appear on these lists. There are a dozen debut authors in the lists. This means that the vast majority of authors are not newbies.


Next we consider genre; the biggest “problem” when looking at the lists by the numbers. Genre is certainly subjective, and even if we stuck only to the labels the publishers offer, there is still not enough consistency to make things fit into a neat pie chart. Publishers labeled these works everything from graphic memoir to paranormal romance to historical fable. As mentioned above, I streamlined everything into seven: fantasy, realistic, science fiction, historical fiction, mystery, horror, and graphic fiction. “Realistic” includes romance, LGBTQ, action, coming of age, and many other genres that could be separated out. Feel free to email me to initiate a spirited discussion about which books should be considered what. In the meantime –


Realistic for the win! Who knew? My money would have been on fantasy. Perhaps, after years of fantasy and paranormal everything, the tide is turning?

But again, this is the simplified version of the genres. Kirkus labels Chasing Shadows a “graphic fiction hybrid” and while I’ve never seen those three words in that order before, that perfectly describes the book. Boxers and Saints are graphic fiction for charting purposes, but more accurately, they should be called graphic historical fiction. Far Far Away and September Girls get called fairy tales or fables, but here, I’ve shoved them into the all-purpose fantasy category. And is Two Boys Kissing most accurately described as LGBTQ? Or romance? Or realistic? Or some combination thereof?

There are six titles on these lists that are graphic novels or heavily illustrated or have important graphic elements. I’ve included them this year because ever since Gene Luen Yang won the Printz for American Born Chinese, graphically illustrated work has been seeping into mainstream consciousness. More authors and illustrators are using images to help move the story along, and more librarians, teachers, and readers are buying, reading, and studying graphic books now. Even one of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young People nominees is all about graphic design and how it impacts everyday life, Go! A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd. Graphic novels of all stripes are getting so much attention, in fact, that the only book to make all five lists is Yang’s Boxers and Saints. Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park is nipping at its heels, appearing on four lists. Does this mean Yang is a Printz contender again? Who knows. But it does seem to speak to the importance with which reviewers are taking graphic novels.


44 books made only one list. 14 are on at least two. Five hit three lists. Eleanor & Park and Boxers and Saints stand alone at four and five lists respectively. You can view all the titles on this public spreadsheet.

What does this all mean? In the end, I think it means only one thing: you’ve got 64 books to get busy reading!


-Geri Diorio, currently reading The Fury by Alexander Gordon Smith

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  1. Alissa B. Alissa B.

    Hi Geri
    Firstly, really interesting article! I too was surprised and pleased that the realistic genre was the clear winner (I’m guessing we can thank John Green for much of that one. At my library, his books barely hit the “reshelving” area before being checked out again). I’m getting pretty tired of all the post-apocalyptic dystopians and paranormal romances. They’re starting to all sound the same and, when it comes to keeping a reader invested, predictability is a bad thing. Anyway…

    I would like, if I may, to suggest breaking down the fantasy genre into two separate sub-categories: “Fantasy” and “Fantasy Romance”. I know this is a fine line as many fantasy stories have romantic elements to them, but I’m talking about fantasy books where the romance IS the entire plot (before categorizing, ask yourself: “Is this a Kissing Book?”). Personally I kind of cringe at the idea of Tolkien, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who novelizations being haphazardly thrown in with something like Twilight, but also because I’m curious about what the breakdown would be. After all, paranormal romance has been so popular for so long that it’s pretty much won its own separate genre classification.

    Just my thoughts

  2. Geri Diorio Geri Diorio

    Hi Alissa,

    Thank you for your kind words! It was really interesting to look at all these lists and try to find meaning in them. And you are probably spot-on about Mr. Green’s influence on realistic taking the lead. His books are always out in my library, and with the FioS movie coming out next year, that’s not going to change.

    I like your suggestion about breaking out romance from fantasy. (You sold me with your Princess Bride reference!) And honestly, we could break romance out of all genres. It is not from this year, but you made me think of Beth Revis’ book Across the Universe. Yes it was science fiction, but it was REALLY a “kissing book.” Romance is the biggest selling genre on the planet (the link below shows numbers from 2012), and since romance can take many forms (as long as it has a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending), perhaps I should indeed have pulled out all the kissing books. And perhaps I shall, after the holidays! Thank you for the inspiration!

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