Top 100 Teen Novels

While perusing other posts under the books tag on WordPress, I came across a post talking about an NPR summer poll.  Last year they looked for the 100 Greatest Science Fiction/Fantasy books according to readers, and this year they’re looking for the 100 Greatest Teen Novels.  (For those interested, the top 100 SciFi/Fantasy list can be found here.)

The website for the poll can be found here.  This is a pretty exhaustive list of 235 books culled from nominations by various people.

Go vote, then come back here so I can talk about what I picked and a couple of questions I have about the list.

Done voting?  Ok, good.  here are the books I voted for:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
  • I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak
  • The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles

(If you’re interested in any of these books, I have reviews for all of them except The Hunger Games and A Separate Peace.  Links can be found under The Total Score page found at the top of my blog.)

Yes, I know that I only voted for 9 books and you’re allowed to vote for up to 10, but there wasn’t anything else on the list that was really jumping out at me as one of the best teen novels ever.

But as I said, I have a couple of questions on the list, some of which they kind of explain, but I still don’t agree with.  For example, where is Ender’s Game?  They said they didn’t include it because of the violence, yet The Hunger Games is on here, and I’d argue that it’s more violent than Ender’s Game.  I was also really puzzled by a couple of the books they had on there.  For example, The Lord of the Rings and Dune are both on their long list.  I must admit I’ve never actually read LotR (again, this is on there but no Ender’s Game?) but I don’t think it really qualifies as a teen book.  And Dune?  A teen novel?  I just read the book in May, Dune is not a standard teen novel.  I don’t care about their reasoning that it’s kind of a “rite of passage” for teen readers, it’s not a teen novel.

Anyway, those are my thoughts about the list, what do you think about it, and for that matter, what did you vote for?

Tome of the Undergates

This is yet another book I heard of through the Writing Excuses podcast.  Sam Sykes was a guest on the podcast a couple months back and they had an interesting discussion of sensory writing.  After listening to that podcast I picked up Sam’s first book – Tome of the Undergates – a while ago and just now read through it.  There were some flashes of very good writing in the book, but as a whole it didn’t work out for me.

Book Stats

486 pages

Fantasy

First book of The Aeons’ Gate series

Characters

There are 6 main characters in the book, and one interesting thing that the book does is start after the characters have all met.  The characters are all adventurers or mercenaries of one type or another, and at the beginning of the book they find themselves escorting a priest on a journey where they find themselves on a ship about to be attacked by pirates.  White it was interesting that the book started this way, I think it ultimately made the characters seem a little flat.  Because you don’t know anything about their backgrounds until much later in the book, they come across as stereotypes of the fantasy genre.  There were some moments where the characters were interesting, but to me they were too few and far between to be effective.

Setting

A fairly standard pseudo-medieval fantasy world, albeit one inhabited by several different species that you encounter throughout the book.

Plot

The characters are all escorting Miron, a priest who has a powerful book in his possession.  Naturally, the boat that they’re on is attacked by pirates (who are also accompanied by frog men, one of the kinds of demonic opponents they fight throughout the book) who end up stealing the book.  From that point on, the book follows their quest to recover the book and return it to Miron, in exchange for a hefty sum of gold of course.

Enjoyment

This was a different sort of fantasy book from the ones I typically read.  Rather than focusing on an epic sense of scope and following the adventurers over the course of a long adventure, the book takes place over the span of 4 or 5 days.  I’d probably label the book as more of a heroic fantasy than epic.

The problem with this is that the book just didn’t work for me.  The characters felt very flat, and the entirety of the book seemed to focus on their fighting, which doesn’t work very well in a book.  One of the thoughts that I had while reading the book is that it would probably make a very good movie, because it’s so visually oriented.  Books don’t generally do visually oriented stories very well, they do much better with stories driven either by character emotion or by philosophical ideas.  There are a few sections of the book where Sykes tries to focus more on character emotions – specifically he sets up a couple of potential love interests – but I didn’t think they were handled very well.  There are a couple of other scenes throughout the book that show a lot of potential depth, specifically in the last 40 pages of the book both Gariath (the dragonman) and Asper (the healer/priestess) had scenes that were very intriguing and showed a lot of depth to their characters.  Unfortunately for every scene that succeeded like this, there was another scene that felt like it tried to do this but came across as a ham-fisted train wreck.

Overall Grade

There were flashes of a great story in this book, unfortunately they’re mired in questionable plotting and poor characterization.

3/10