Why does anyone even do top 100 books lists anymore? The only thing they’re really good for is inciting controversy, because no matter what books you pick, someone will nitpick your selection for slights real and imaginary—whether it’s leaving favorite authors off the list or skewing your choices toward certain factors. I have yet to see any sort of Top X list that does not attract this sort of controversy.
Case in point: NPR’s recent announcement of a “100 best-ever teen novels” list. With 100 books to choose from, you can bet people will find something objectionable. And they did. While lauding some of the choices, blogger Megan Crane at Forever Young Adult pointed out that the list includes an awful lot of vampires, most books are from the last few years, and the list is also “extremely white.”
NPR made ridiculously arbitrary and inconsistent decisions as to which books they believed qualified as YA and which books were completely removed from the voting process. If something was nominated enough, it should have been left on the list. If enough people consider it YA, then it shouldn’t matter what a panel of a few people decide. Pride and Prejudice was too “Universal” (what on earth does THAT even mean in terms of this poll?) and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn was too “Adult.” Ender’s Gamewas removed because its “violence isn’t appropriate for young readers.” […] I can’t even respond to that without my brain exploding[.]
And Shaker Laurie, guest-blogging on feminist blog Shakesville, points out that only two of the books on the entire list feature colored protagonists.
Clearly, audience-selected "Best Ever" lists are dangerous and problematic, but the absence of any indication of NPR’s awareness of the glaring neglect on their list is also troubling. A list of "Best-Ever" books that declares only two books about teens of color worthy keeps all of these amazing stories in the margins, and arguably marginalizes them even further. When the world of reading remains so predominantly white, children and teens of color receive the clear message that they don’t belong. It sends a message directly from readers as well as NPR that writing about people of color is not valuable or valued, that their stories aren’t as important as the trials and tribulations of Edward and Bella; the Twilight series ranks #27.
I’m not saying that these folks don’t make some good points about the list. Indeed, if the list really was mostly reader-selected, the list itself might say some interesting things about the people as a whole whose input made it up. Perhaps those readers just don’t care about protagonists of color. But any time someone tries to come up with as many as 100 examples of the best things in their class, they’re guaranteeing that nobody who has an opinion will entirely agree with them.