On Saturday, January 31, I had the privilege to not only attend the “Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA)” feedback session, I also was able to bring four of my local library teens to participate in the session. Here is a picture of the five of us after the session posing with all of our swag bags. My four teens joined up with other teen readers to comprise a group of 60, all ready to do what teens do best: share their opinions.
Just a little background, if you are unfamiliar with the BFYA list: throughout the year, librarians add books published that year to a nomination list. From this nomination list, a committee reads the titles and ultimately whittles the list down to a BFYA Top Ten list. In order to ensure that the best books make the Top Ten list, the committee holds a feedback session in which teens can share why they think a book should or should not be on the list. The teens lined up at microphones that faced the committee members rather than the large crowd of librarians and teachers who stopped in to get the firsthand knowledge presented by the teens. Each teen had no more than 90 seconds to prove their point and were allowed to write up their reviews ahead of time. Unfortunately, due to the length of the nomination list, not every title was reviewed by the teens during the session.
Before I begin to share the details of the session, here is the BFYA Top Ten list:
The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston
There was one phrase that was constantly heard throughout the BFYA session. That phrase was, “I completely disagree.” Whether the next person was praising or poo-pooing the title, it was obvious that there were mixed feelings about the books. The Crossover was not read by many teens, but the teens that did read it were not used to sports books and felt that they were not the right audience to read the book. The Crossover definitely has an audience as it was not only on this Top Ten list, it was also the winner of the 2015 Newbery Award. Vango was not read by many teens, but the teen who did review it spoke very highly of the book. In fact, she opened her review saying that Vango is “magic.” Unfortunately teens did not review the following books: The Carnival at Bray (2015 Printz Honor and 2015 Morris Honor), The Gospel of Winter, I’ll Give You the Sun (2015 Printz Winner), Jackaby, Noggin, The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim (2015 Morris Honor), We Were Liars and The Young Elites.
There were two books that received positive reviews from all of their teen reviewers. The first book was Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira. Teens said that it felt different from other books. They also said the author used word that teens would use and they understood the references. Another book that received unanimous praise from the teens who all thought it should be on the list was Girls Like Us by Gail Giles. The teens thought it had good pacing and was accurate to real life. Girls Like Us didn’t make it on the BFYA list, but it did win the Schneider Family Book award which celebrates books that focus on the experiences of characters with disabilities. While both of these books did not make it on the Top Ten list, they were very well-received by the teens.
Here are some other comments about some of the other books the teens reviewed:
Don’t Look Back by Jennifer Armentrout – There were several positive reviews regarding this book. Some said it was just like watching a movie. There were negative comments as well such as the book was unrelatable and it moved at a slow pace.
Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman – Some thought it shouldn’t be on the list because it included cliches while others thought this was an interesting history lesson.
Torn Away by Jennifer Brown – One teen said it is the best portrayal of teen life and was gut-wrenching in its storytelling while another lost interest and didn’t finish it.
The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson – This book received a lot of positive feedback. In fact, one of the teens grew up in the Middle East and said it was very accurate.
Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks – The teens liked the mixture of reality and supernatural and viewed this book as an underdog.
Fake ID by Lamar Giles – While one teen couldn’t put the book down, another thought the author kept adding too much to the story and it was difficult to follow.
The Walled City by Ryan Graudin – One teen referred to The Walled City as a “Chinese Godfather.”
The opinions are not limited merely to what I conveyed above. The teens did a terrific job of sharing their thoughts about books and showed that it is almost impossible to get everyone to agree. It just goes to show that the best way to determine whether or not a book is good is just to read it yourself.
-Brandi Smits, currently reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson & Crown at Midnight by Sarah J. Maas