2014 Best Books by the Numbers

Welcome to the end of 2014. Year-end best-of lists are all over the place, so it is time for us here at The Hub to take part in the quantifying madness! There were so many amazing YA books released this year, but for this post, we’ll be taking a look at the ones deemed “best” by Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Horn Book. (Last year, we included the ‘Best YA for Adults’ list from Library Journal, but it appears they did not create such a list this year.) I am grateful that The Hub let me do this post again and while I am delighted to look at all the best-of lists and try to makes sense of them, I confess to being a bad statistician. I did not keep everything the same from last year to this one. Here’s what I changed, and why:

This year, in addition to including fiction marketed to people aged 12 and older, I added in nonfiction as well. My reasoning is that due to the Common Core standards, more and more nonfiction is being read in and out of schools. Also, we’re heading towards the fifth anniversary of YALSA’s Excellence in Nonfiction Awards (have you taken part in The Hub’s reading challenge yet?) so it seems like nonfiction is a viable genre to include here, with ten titles represented in the lists. Also, while there are seven genres considered this year, same number as last year, they are slightly different ones. This year, I added poetry and nonfiction and eliminated horror and historical fiction. This does not mean that there were no horrific, historical books in the lists, but ‘genre’ is such a troublesome category. I used Edelweiss, publisher’s websites, Amazon, and my own knowledge of the books in question to try and accurately label them, perhaps not always successfully. I’ll get into more specifics about ‘genre’ below. If you would like to see the spreadsheet I was working from, it is here.

There are 74 titles on the ‘best-of’ lists this year. This is up ten from last year (counting those ten nonfiction titles), but still down from the 89 fiction-only titles from 2012. Who is writing these terrific YA books? Still mostly ladies.

2014 Best of by gender

Male writers are gaining on females, last year only 27.7% of the authors on the lists were male and this year, 31.1% are. Will it ever reach a 50/50 balance?

Since the William C.Morris Award nominees were recently announced, let’s see how many books on our list were written by debut authors.

2014 Best of debut authors

There were 17 debuts in the lists and 56 titles were written by established authors. What’s that I hear you say? That doesn’t add up to 74? You are correct! There is one outlier, a book that would not fit into the seemingly A or B categories of debut author or not – Dreaming in Indian, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale is an anthology of works by Native American authors – some of whom are established, some you’ve never heard of. Thus my wonky math.

Now we come to the most problematic area: genre. Publishers label their books without any kind of consistency. They are trying to market them to the widest possible audience. The official descriptions include such terms as fiction, mystery, supernatural, historical fiction, magical realism, fables and mythology, nonfiction, biography, graphic nonfiction, even fantasy based on fan fiction!

In looking over the lists and checking the classifications, I tried to collapse the genres into something manageable and coherent. Apologies to those who would like a romance category. While I acknowledge the dominance of romance in the publishing world, the publishers’ descriptions I was working with here just didn’t include that term enough times to merit giving it its own column. Thus, once again, the catchall term “realistic” includes romance, historical fiction, coming of age, and almost any plot that doesn’t involve magic or mystery or science fiction. Probably because so many subgenres are lumped into “realistic,” it is the biggest category here.

2014 Best of genres

Fantasy is up a couple of percentage points from last year, while graphic fiction is down a couple. Speaking unscientifically (as I have been throughout this post), I believe in the popularity of realistic fiction; in the library where I work, more and more teens are borrowing realistic books and the popularity of dystopian fantasies is waning.

Looking at the four lists, we can see that 58 books made it onto at least one, ten books made it onto two, four books hit three lists (Grasshopper Jungle, Egg & Spoon, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, and The Family Romanov), and only two books, This One Summer and We Were Liars, hit all four.

2014 Best of multiple lists

Does getting onto multiple lists hint at Printz or Morris or Excellence in Nonfiction greatness? Maybe. Some books on past best-of lists got honors, some have won, some were not on the awards’ radar at all. What books on multiple lists does mean for certain is that you should read them, because they are really, really good. Not sure where to dive in? Keep an eye on The Hub– next week Tara Kehoe will give you some great annotations of books on the lists.

~ Geri Diorio, currently reading Spillover by David Quammen