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A Different Light: LGBTQ Characters on 2013 “Best Of” Lists

lgbtqyalitOne of my favorite things about end-of-year “Best Of” lists is the chance to see what I’ve read – and what I’ve missed – in YA in the last year. A yearly review of the lists is also a good chance to track trends as they evolve from year to year. As someone who’s particularly interested in the portrayal  of LGBTQ teens in young adult literature, reviewing “Best Of” lists is a good way to check in on the status on LGBTQ literature for teens.

Before you read this post, do check out Geri’s wonderful by the numbers breakdown of the 2013 “Best Of” lists.  I’ve used the same 5 “best of” lists and data that Geri used in her post and that Hub bloggers have used in the past: Horn Book, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal’s “Best Teen Books for Adults” list. Using the same lists helps maintain consistency between posts and across years (see last year’s breakdown of LGBTQ characters on Best Of lists here). I’ve read  some but not all of the books on the best of lists, so I relied on publisher-provided summaries and Goodreads tags to determine which titles qualifiy as LGBTQ. If I’ve missed something, please let me know in the comments!

There were 64 fiction titles on the lists; just 4 (or 6.2%) focus on LGBTQ protagonists or issues.  This is down from last year when almost 8% of the titles on the list featured LGBTQ themes, main characters, or plot lines. Also notable is the homogeneity of the characters portrayed in the four “Best of” titles. All of LGBTQ characters on this year’s lists are cisgendered gay boys; there are no bisexual or lesbian characters and no transgendered characters on this year’s list (again, I haven’t read all of the books, so do please let me know if I’m wrong!)

The four LGBTQ novels on this year’s “best of” lists are:

More Than This

More Than This by Patrick Ness (2 of 5 lists)

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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.

bestof2013_authorgender

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.

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A Different Light: LGBTQ characters on 2012 “Best of” Lists

lgbtqyalitI love “best of” lists. They’re one of the reasons that December is one of my favorite book months of the year (the other reason is that awards talk starts to ramp up, and if you aren’t already excited for the Youth Media Awards, I don’t know if we can be friends anymore).

If you haven’t already read Kelly’s breakdown of this year’s “best of” lists, go check it out. It’s a fantastic and thorough post. In order to maintain a little Hub-wide consistency, I’ve used the same 5 “best of” lists and data that Kelly did: Horn Book, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal’s “Best Teen Books for Adults” list. I’ve read many but not all of the books on the best of lists, so I relied on Malinda Lo’s lists of LGBTQ YA published in 2012 (published on her blog) to make sure that I noted all of the LGBTQ books on the lists.

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A Wordle for 2012’s Best Teen Fiction

I really enjoy the visual impact a word cloud makes. A quick glance gives you the main idea of a bunch of data and a bit more study lets you see the details. I was so impressed with this word cloud I found at the end of last year that I tracked down the person who made it and asked if we could feature it on The Hub. This year, I decided to make my own Wordle, featured above, including a wider variety of end of the year lists chosen based on those lists that I encountered during my typical wanderings around the Internet and that would influence my collection development choices. The variety of lists I included gives this cloud some density, bringing together a large selection of the best and most talked about books of the year. Clearly the title that is overwhelmingly on everyone’s mind this year is The Fault in Our Stars. Click the image for a bigger, more sharable version.

Information on the lists I used is included after the jump.

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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.

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Reacting to NPR’s 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

I can’t seem to go three posts on a social network this week without hearing something about NPR’s list, Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels. Reactions to the list have been largely critical ranging from: “How dare you fail to include my favorite book?” to “I can’t believe they ranked that popular book above that more literary book!” I think a bit of an uproar is a good thing. It means we’ve all got great teen books on our minds. But lists are tricky things. They are neither perfect nor permanent. They are informed by their time and their criteria and by the people involved in choosing what ended up there — in this case mostly fans of NPR or folks who found their way to the polls through some other channel. Lists have a great many uses, but what’s best is always changing.

Here are some interesting numbers.*

  • 59 of the books listed were written by female authors.
    42 of the books listed were written by male authors.
    David Levithan (male) and Rachel Cohn (female) collaborated on Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which is why there is a discrepancy in the math. While female authors do tend to lead in the YA field, the male authors on this list are relatively close to equally represented.
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DIY Mock Printz

Last month I had the most fun, doing the nerdiest thing since becoming a librarian: I participated in my first Mock Printz discussion. Fourteen YA librarians met for a morning of great books, amazing discussion and criminal amounts of fun. Afterward I realized how easy organizing a Mock Printz discussion would be. All you need is group that loves YA literature, librarians, teens, or your monthly book club and these easy steps.

Step #1: Make a Reading List

This is a daunting task, even for someone like me who reads many books through out the year. Luckily, besides pulling on your memory, there are other places to find books that got starred reviews or landed on the various best of lists. The Hub, of course, is a great stop for finding well reviewed titles and also analysis and interesting break downs of the “best of” lists. Largehearted Boy amazingly collected just about every best of list that exists. School Library Journal‘s Someday My Printz Will Come blog (great name!) has been collecting possible Printz contenders all year. Asking your favorite group of teens is one more way of crafting a well-round list.

Select about five to six titles and share them in advance with your group. It’s important to do this well ahead of time so everyone has a chance to acquire the titles and time to read them.

Step #2: Host a Discussion

This is where a group “passionate about YA literature” comes into play. They can easily talk about what makes a great YA novel worthy of the Printz. But it’s also helpful to remind the group of the eligibility requirements and criteria. YALSA suggests these criteria which are not exhaustive, but are a great place to start the discussion of what constitutes the best in terms of literary merit.

  • Story
  • Voice
  • Style
  • Setting
  • Accuracy
  • Characters
  • Theme
  • Illustrations
  • Design (including format, organization, etc.)
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“Best of” Lists by the numbers

One of my favorite things this time of year is poring over the various “best of” lists that pop up. So far, the four I’ve spent a lot of time with include Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Horn Book.

I love figuring out what trends emerge and which books make multiple list appearances, as well as the different genres that pop up among the most-listed. This year, I decided to take a real in-depth look, and I thought I’d share some of the interesting trends.

For the sake of simplicity, I limited my observations to only the fiction titles on the four above “best of” lists, and I further limited them by books Amazon listed as appropriate for readers age 10 and older, since the different publications offered a varying range of age-appropriateness. I made one exception to this in leaving The Chronicles of Harris Burdick off my charts, simply because it was an anthology and breaking it down by the qualities I was interested in proved too challenging without having read the book.

Nothing below is meant to draw any conclusions, but rather, it’s a way to look at these lists a little more statistically. I know I can’t be alone in finding numbers like these fascinating.

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