Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults 2014: Remembering Ned Vizzini
YALSA’s 2014 Popular Paperbacks For Young Adults committee created three themed lists of paperbacks: “Conflicted: Life During Wartime,” “GLBTQ: Books with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer-questioning, Intersex, Asexual Individuals, and Their Allies,” and “Humor Me: Funny, Fantastic and Witty Reads.” Nominations for PPYA must fit one of the selected themes, and they must be popular. Literary quality is not a consideration, just an added bonus.
Committee members read widely, searching for a diversity of formats, ethnic representation, and character experience. The “Conflicted” subcommittee worked from a grim spreadsheet of wars, making sure to cover as many locations and time periods as possible. In the graphic novel War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel Lafrance, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army abducts Jacob and his friends from their Ugandan boarding school. Based on interviews with child soldiers, this brutal story’s bold, expressive illustrations make it all the more harrowing.
The “GLBTQ” subcommittee was delighted to find a large pool of recently published titles to choose from. One of the PPYA Top Ten titles (and a 2014 Stonewall Award winner) is Beautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills. Elizabeth becomes Gabe when he DJ’s a community radio show, an inspired way of illustrating a transitioning teen’s gradual steps into a fuller identity.
Creating the “Humor” list got serious fast. Members honed their evaluation skills by subsuming their personal preferences to a rather mechanical rubric of humor, which led to existential debates about many of the titles: did they exist to be funny?
The tortured discussions ended with Ned Vizzini’s Teen Angst? Naaah… A young adult humor list almost requires a book by Vizzini, and these essays about his high school adventures as a domino player, a Magic: The Gathering fanatic, and a Stuyvesant student are a perfect fit.
This is Vizzini at the beginning of his career, before the full-fledged novels and the film adaptation; before he became a husband and a father; before we lost him to suicide. This is Vizzini as a teen, noting, “Destruction can really cheer up a thirteen-year-old,” realizing that to be happy “all you really needed was to feel superior,” and reminding himself “not to be such a cynical eff.” Vizzini rounded out his humor with a great deal of vulnerability and warmth. Remembering this, you may laugh until you cry.
-Lisa Goldstein, currently re-reading Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini