This morning, I received an email promising a list of “The 40 Most Popular ‘New’ Young Adult Classics.” How can a classic be new, I wondered? A classic book by definition is old. We’re told they are classic because they stand the test of time. For me, a true classic is an old book people want to read; one they approach on their own, unassigned. Pride and Prejudice comes to mind, as does Jane Eyre. But my favorite definition of a classic comes from Mark Twain: “A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read.” His notion of a classic book is probably closer to the truth.
I wondered what this list of new classics would look like. Would the article be a speculative? I clicked on the link and found that the actual article has a more sober title: “The 40 Most Popular Recent Young Adult Novels.” The person in charge of creating the email newsletter must have altered the title to make it look flashier. More clickbaity.
Nonetheless, it was interesting to study a list of the most popular YA books of the last three years. To generate this list, the compiler quantified a book’s popularity using the number of reviews a book has on Goodreads and then culling any books with low average star ratings, which in this list was anything below 3.5 stars. Though I rarely read YA, I was familiar with many of the titles just from watching Booktube, and it was interesting to see which hyped book had made it and which had not. (Where is Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing; 57,046 ratings/ 4.02 star rating.)
For fun, I graphed the total number of star ratings against the book’s rank on the original list. You can see that after the second-ranked book, there is a precipitous decline in the number of reviews, suggesting that the popularity of the number 1 and 2 ranked books (The Hate U Give and Turtles All the Way Down, respectively) is of a different magnitude. Interestingly, both books are contemporary YA novels.
Then I looked at genre. While contemporary novels might have runaway successes, the vast majority of the books on the list are YA fantasy novels (42.5%) with contemporaries coming in at a distant second (27.5%). It was interesting to note how diverse the contemporary novels were. Many of the books feature LGBTQ+ story lines or are about racial minorities. By contrast, YA fantasy novels seemed less diverse. From looking at this data set (which I suspect is inaccurate), one can conclude that (1) a writer trying to break into the YA writing market is best-off writing fantasy, and (2) a minority writer has the best chance of being published if they write contemporaries.
Below is the full list, including publication year, average star rating, genre, total number of star ratings, and total number of written reviews on the Goodreads website. The information was collected on August 5, 2020.
|1||The Hate U Give||2017||4.52||Contemporary||470,674||56,519|
|2||Turtles All the Way Down||2017||3.96||Contemporary||299,030||33,508|
|3||One of Us Is Lying||2017||4.05||Mystery||194,373||24,918|
|4||The Cruel Prince||2018||4.14||Fantasy||190,375||26,315|
|5||Always and Forever Lara Jean||2017||4.14||Romance||139,440||16,431|
|7||Children of Blood and Bone||2018||4.13||Fantasy||138,560||22,632|
|9||Kingdom of Ash||2018||4.59||Fantasy||120,713||15,049|
|10||Lord of Shadows||2017||4.49||Fantasy||89,835||12,197|
|11||The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue||2017||4.11||Historical Fiction||85,221||15,522|
|12||They Both Die at the End||2017||4.12||Contemporary||85,814||15,360|
|14||La Belle Sauvage||2017||4.16||Fantasy||73,334||7,564|
|15||Five Feet Apart||2018||4.18||Romance||74,477||9,514|
|17||Carve the Mark||2017||3.78||Fantasy||58,810||7,360|
|18||What If It’s Us||2018||3.92||Romance||60,176||10,576|
|19||The Upside of Unrequited||2017||3.96||Contemporary||57,886||9,321|
|20||On the Come Up||2019||4.3||Contemporary||58,811||8,921|
|23||The Hazel Wood||2018||3.58||Fantasy||55,877||10,164|
|24||The Ballas of Songbirds and Snakes||2020||3.84||Science Fiction||109,331||16,911|
|25||Leah on the Offbeat||2018||3.88||Contemporary||53,470||9,098|
|26||The Poet X||2018||4.43||Contemporary||54,183||11,093|
|27||Long Way Down||2017||4.32||Contemporary||51,910||10,271|
|28||Eliza and Her Monsters||2017||4.22||Contemporary||44,571||9,427|
|30||To Kill a Kingdom||2018||3.93||Fantasy||45,578||8,771|
|31||A Curse So Dark and Lonely||2019||4.16||Fantasy||47,068||9,468|
|32||We Are Okay||2017||3.96||Contemporary||44,455||7,504|
|34||Serpent and Dove||2019||4.13||Fantasy||48,233||9,423|
|35||When Dimple Met Rishi||2017||3.71||Romance||41,684||9,083|
|36||Two Can Keep a Secret||2019||3.98||Mystery||43,387||6,459|
|37||King of Scars||2019||4.21||Fantasy||40,224||7,871|
|38||Sorcery of Thorns||2019||4.11||Fantasy||38,549||7,825|
|39||History Is All You Left Me||2017||4.05||Contemporary||34,232||6,145|
|40||Flame in the Mist||2017||3.89||Fantasy||33,476||5,555|
You can look at the list here.