Most Influential YA of the Decade

Omnivoracious, Amazon’s book blog, has an excellent post on the most influential YA of the decade. It is a very good list, indeed. I agree to a certain extent with almost all the entries, but—you knew there was a but, didn’t you?—I don’t think Paolini belongs on the list, and I feel strongly that Holly Black and Ellen Hopkins do.

Now before I get going, let me set out what I understand this list to be. It is not about the quality of the books involved, but about their influence on the publishing field of Young Adult fiction. I believe that there is no question that Stephenie Meyer was the most influential writer of the decade. She created gazillions of readers and there is vastly more paranormal romance and urban fantasy published in YA than ever before directly because of Meyer’s success. As someone who primarily writes YA fantasy in contemporary settings, Meyer has single-handledly increased my chances of continuing to be published. I am extremely grateful. I have even learned to take with grace people telling me I am ripping Meyer off. It helps that I know they’re wrong. 🙂

Paolini, on the other hand? Sure, he sells strongly, but what is his lasting influence on the field? Where is the explosion in YA high fantasy? Nor has there been a huge wave of successful teen YA writers in Paolini’s wake. I call one-off and no big influence.

On the other hand, the success of Holly Black’s Faerie Tale books, especially the first one, Tithe (2002), paved the way for many, many writers such as Stephenie Meyer, Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Melissa Marr, Malinda Lo, me, and too many others to name. I was shocked that Holly’s name was not on the list.

Then there’s Ellen Hopkins who showed that novels in verse are more than viable in YA, they can be bestsellers. That’s certainly not true in adult fiction and Hopkin’s phenomenal success is a huge part of it. Another shocking omission.

I am also saddened by how white the list is. Is it an accurate reflection of the whiteness of the field? I would like to think Christopher Paul Curtis, Angela Johnson, Walter Dean Myers and Jacqueline Woodson have had a big influence across YA (and middle grade). Christopher Paul Curtis had a huge part in shaping my idea of what I can write. (I didn’t read the other three until more recently.) Certainly all four of these very different writers have had far more influence on YA than I have. Yet I am mentioned on the supplementary list and Christopher Paul Curtis, Angela Johnson and Jacqueline Woodson are not. Very weird. For the record: I have no place anywhere on that list.1

I also wonder about so-called street lit, a decent chunk of which is definitely YA, which grew up way outside mainstream publishing. How do you measure that influence? I’ve come across many teens who found their way to reading via books they bought on the subway.

I also ponder David Levithan’s influence in terms of the last decade of GLBT YA books. It is a quieter influence, yes, but it’s definitely there.

What say all of you?

STERN WARNING: Please remember that we’re not talking about quality! I will delete the comments of anyone who starts bashing any of the writers discussed. We’re not discussing which books we love, we’re discussing which books and writers have made the YA genre what it is today. Nor do I want to hear about whether that influence is good or bad. You have been warned.

  1. Maybe next decade. Fingers crossed. []


  1. Little Willow on #

    I agree that Holly Black should be noted, because it was she who reopened the door to faerie, a door which had been closed or hidden for far too long, a door which so many are now walking up to and through.

    I agree that David Levithan should be included, because of his work, which is truthful and, as you said, quiet but getting louder, as it should.

    I agree that some of the folks on that list weren’t nearly as influential as others, including many who were not mentioned.

    There are so many writers who should be noted there. Some of them are on that list, and some are not. However, if I start listing who should be there that isn’t, I’ll be talking for days…

    Congrats to Scott. Well-deserved. 🙂

  2. Q on #

    I think that Paolini is probably on there because of the influence he had on teen boys reading. Tons of boys read Eragon when gained prominence and have continued to read through the series. While Paolini didn’t have that much effect on what books were published, I expect that he did get tween and teen boys reading, who then branched off from there.

    Maybe that was Omnivoracious’s thought process.

  3. Angela on #

    Paolini’s inclusion had to have something else behind it – his is the only name that didn’t include a “Paved the way for” list.

  4. Malinda Lo on #

    I agree, Holly Black should totally be on that list! I also would suggest that Julie Anne Peters should be on that list. Not only for the National Book Award-nominated LUNA, which brought national attention to transgender teens, but for KEEPING YOU A SECRET (2003), which has become something of a classic within the lesbian community. Both books gave the queer characters happy endings. She tends to fly under the radar despite the NBA, and she deserves the recognition when it comes to queer characters in YA.

  5. J. Andrews on #

    Julie Anne Peters seconded.

  6. Ashley on #

    I work at a predominantly African-American high school in a low-income area of the US; I am the Media Clerk so familiarity with our collection is essential. I have spent most of this year reading YA. I have found such a love for David Levithan; his influence should be deeper. I think people forget about gay youth.

    On to a bigger note I was also disappointed to see that there were no influential black YA authors included in the list. Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, and Angela Johnson novels are always checked out by students (especially when projects are due for Literature class). These are the novels my students relate too. Are they forgetting a large section of people? I am just a little confused. These novels are influencing a large section of youth.

  7. connor bb on #

    Julie Anne Peters thirded (is that right? I have some sinking feeling I sound like an idiot right now.)

    I also think that Phillip Pullman should be on that list!! He wrote some really thought-provoking stuff.

    Another author I think should DEFINITELY be on that list is Sarah Dessen.

    [Part of this comment was deleted by the blog overlord for disobeying the instruction not to talk about quality of books or lack thereof.]

  8. Justine on #

    connor bb: Sorry to be harsh, but I don’t want this discussion to be sidetracked into talking about whether books are any good or not. We’re talking influence only.

  9. Ley on #

    If not for Holly Black, I would never have begun to read young adult fiction. My teenaged years were spent reading Chuck Palahniuk and Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker — I thought teen-aimed fiction was all slice-of-live high school fluff. Something to that effect, anyway.

    To me, she is THE most influential young adult writer of the past decade, for that reason alone.

  10. Hillary! on #

    After having read the comments: YES! Holly Black led me to Neil Gaiman, Ellen Datlow, Delia Sherman, Emma Bull, all those wonderful authors who had been writing for years but I had never heard of. And Julie Anne Peters! She led me to Laurie Halse Anderson who led me to MT Anderson. A great many wonderful authors were left out who were very influential. It’s a sad sad thing but no list is ever perfect. Everyone has their opinions.

  11. notemily on #

    I agree with the inclusion of David Levithan and Julie Anne Peters. I think their influence is going to last well into the next decade, if not longer. Peters’ achingly honest portrayal of a transgender teen in Luna and Levithan’s “gaytopia” novel Boy Meets Boy are huge contributions to the world of GLBTQ YA lit.

    I think J.K. Rowling might actually be a better choice than Paolini for letting publishers know that YA fantasy can sell, even if the Harry Potter books are more children’s than YA. Rowling opened a huge door in publishing that had echoes throughout the YA world as well as children’s.

    And I might be the only one, but I think Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower had a bigger influence than it’s credited for.

  12. Najela on #

    Meyer did influence on opening up YA to an audience that perhaps would never read if they didn’t have to.

    Paolini is on there because he was a teenager when he wrote the book. I was about 15 when I read the book, the same age he was when he read it. I was a little inspired (though I didn’t know his family owned a publishing company at the time) by the fact that he was my age and he published a book. In my mind, I thought, if he could do it, I could. I think that’s his influence. We don’t have enough books written by teens about and for teens.

    There’s a little side paragraph that mentioned Walter Dean Myers and you. I don’t know if that was before or after you wrote the blog though. I think you are influential for people of color, you’re influential for me. =)

  13. Najela on #

    I don’t really understand their criteria and why the people on the bottom only got an honorable mention but would have made the list with different criteria. I wonder what that criteria would be.

  14. alaska on #

    john green pretty much brought me back into the YA genre to start (which should be no surprise to anyone who knows me – “a separate peace” is one of my all time favorite books ever). claudia gray made me realize that vampires written by women could have strong female characters. i one hundred times agree with julie anne peters. and i know a LOT of people who got into YA because they liked neil gaiman’s work in other areas – and then discovered what YA was doing and stayed.

    i think something that is left out of the list is what characterizes YA for me in the last decade – even with the paranormal/fantasy elements, so many of the books written dealt with scary, big, adults-are-afraid topics. i think almost all the authors on the list fall into that category (scott’s “uglies” discussing beauty, self-injury, etc. to laurie halse anderson’s “speak” and “wintergirls” to elizabeth scott’s “living dead girl”.)

    the other person that stands out as sort of different for me is actually maureen johnson, who started out with very realistic fiction and then started adding small elements of whimsy to the story – which i hadn’t really seen before. it let me find my way to fantasy (and things like “tithe”) as someone who never really was into fantasy/faerie/sci-fi/etc. (like i said, “a separate peace” is a big favorite.)

    lastly, i would like to say that my name is not due to john green’s influence, despite my love of his work. blame the velvet underground for this one. 😉

  15. Diana Peterfreund on #

    Paolini was a Rowling coattails, in terms of readership. He did really well because there was this core of VERY YOUNG YA readers who had just graduated from HP. Did he “pave the way” for other teen writers of YA? Eh. More like he paved the way for a lot of teens to TRY — I think the people who are college aged now think of him as more influential for that reason, because they started writing after reading him and thinking they could do it too. But how many successes were there? Amelia Atwater-Rhodes was already publishing, and I can think of only a few more, none of whom write high fantasy, and a few of whom backfired in a major way (like Kaavya Viswanathan). So the whole “age as a marketing ploy” thing didn’t really end up taking off.

    Philip Pullman also is a geographical thing. He was HUGE in the UK, but not so much in the US.

    I second the nomination of Sarah Dessen, though. There are a lot of people out there making a living writing teen romantic dramas due to her influence and sales.

  16. Aja on #

    I agree completely that Holly Black, W.D. Meyers, and Hopkins should all be on this list. I also feel like arguing strongly for Sonja Sones, Sherman Alexie, and especially Alex Sanchez. How is Alex Sanchez not on this list! Every feeling revolts!

  17. Ariel Cooke on #

    I’m chiming in with others to agree that Holly Black, Sarah Dessen and Walter Dean Myers should be on the list. But to me as a librarian, it’s hard to chop off a decade and consider it in isolation. OK, M.T. Anderson popularized literary YA fic. But so did Francesca Lia Block in the decade before him.

  18. Ellen on #

    From the list:
    “Christopher Paolini – primary contributions: […] putting the notion in publisher’s heads that YA fantasy can sell”

    Uh, I think Rowling already did that… I know she didn’t start publishing in this decade, but, seems like this was already covered before the decade began, since she’s basically why YA-anything took off…

    I definitely agree Ellen Hopkins should have been on there. I used to HATE poetry with a passion until I started reading her novels. Now I read tons of it (though rare is the novel-in-verse that captures my attention and holds me breathless until the end the way hers do).

  19. Wendy on #

    Paolini is the only one I feel like I can safely take off the list. I mean, teenage boys have never stopped reading Tolkien, and publishers and librarians and teachers know this.

    I think it’s hard, in a list like this, not to fall into a trap of choosing one author to represent each “giant step” or each microgenre. But the list is definitely missing someone to represent the surge in GLBT books, whether that’s Levithan or Julie Anne Peters or Ellen Wittlinger.

  20. Heidi Ayarbe on #

    I agree that the only think truly remarkable about Paolini’s influence on the business is the fact he published so young — self published at first etc. etc. etc. And when I read his name on “the list” I had to search for what he’d written. (Granted I haven’t read his novels)

    But I’d also like to argue for Walter Dean Myers, Ellen Hopkins (goes without saying!). And there were no Latino authors named, either. What about Julia Alvarez? I live in Colombia, South America, and there’s a huge GAP in Latino YA. Does anybody know of any influential Latinos in the area?

  21. Laer Carroll on #

    I’m a guy. I got into YA because I thought Anne Hathaway was totally hot in the “Princess Diary” movie. So I picked up the book by Meg Cabot. I laughed so much that I explored other YA books.

    I soon realized that some of the best writing I ever came across – including that in literary fiction – was in YA. I also learned that it was not just about girls crushing on boys. The subjects included deaths in families, generation gaps and reconciliations, drugs, sibling problems, and much more.

    More than a dozen years and I’m still reading. In fact, I’m writing a YA novel – under a female pen-name, of course.

  22. Sheryl on #

    I agree with your post, but although Ellen Hopkins is probably more popular, she’ll tell you that she got inspired to write novels in verse from Sonya Sones. I don’t know if that means Sones is more influential or not…

  23. wandering-dreamer on #

    Only 8 people on the list? Well that’s your first problem, there have certainly been more than 8 influential YA writers this decade. Also putting forward the motion to add Holly Black to the list. I’ve read a number of other urban fantasy novels that seem to draw from some of her works and I noticed on my own that she seemed to be one of the first to really go for the “fractured fairytale in a really urban and gritty way” genre.

  24. Hersha on #

    As an Australian, I think that this list was drawn up from an American point of view. That would explain the whole Christopher Paolini thing, because there have been several prominent Australian and British fantasy writers in the same category as Paolini that obviously didn’t get a mention (can’t name any at the moment, but I’m sure they’re there), whereas USian Paolini does get a place.

    I wasn’t sure about MT Anderson being on the list, having only read one of his books very recently. But I’m sure there are people who have read all of his books that will disagree with me. Also, I was three years old when his vampire book Thirsty was written so naturally I have no idea about it.

    I agree with wandering-dreamer: eight authors is too short a list to cover all of the influential authors out there.

  25. Ellen Hopkins on #

    Thanks, Justine. I am just so grateful to have contributed to the incredible renaissance in YA lit today. Lists and awards are always good to appear on/receive. But it is our readership who we write for, and our readers know and appreciate that.

  26. patti on #

    So I have a suggestion that might not actually fit the criteria – although if it worked for including Paolini, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work here.

    My suggestion is for a series instead of an author. I think the Bluford High series has been incredibly influential in terms of getting kids who are self-proclaimed “non-readers” to read. They are urban stories about African American teens. They are priced cheaply so that you can purchase and replace easily. And kids ask for them by name. Repeatedly. And I think they’ve helped to push along the series Like Drama High and Hotlanta that we’re seeing more of.

  27. Joey-la on #

    I couldn’t agree more that Phillip Pullman really should be included in this list. I feel that it is important for at least some aspects of YA fiction to be contraversal, to open the minds of teenagers and help them to question things them may never had questioned before.
    I think that regardless of what I think of her writing, Stephanie Mayer really has earned her spot on that list. You go into a bookshop today and there are so many teen vampire books it is crazy!
    I think that another part of this should be the influence it has on people. Stephanie Mayer’s charaters have had an amazing effect on teenage girls, just as I would say that Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies has changed me life.

  28. Shveta Thakrar on #

    Totally agree with all your suggestions, Justine. In particular, I second Holly, because I’ve always loved folklore and faeries, and Holly (following in Emma Bull’s footsteps) inspired me to write my own Indian faerie novel. Also, I want to add a couple names to the list: Tanuja Desai Hidier (author of Born Confused) and Mitali Perkins, who wrote some wonderful YA about Indian kids that showed there is an audience for it. If–when–I get published, I’ll have them to thank for paving the way.

  29. Doret on #

    One YA book that comes to mind, though it may be a tad to new is Zusak’s The Book Thief.

    It’s one of the first YA books that many adult book clubs embraced. I think it helped open the eyes of readers who once overlooked YA.

    Walter Dean Myerrs,Jacqueline Woodson,Julie Anne Peters and David Levithan not making the list is baffling.

    Especially when you consider it was probably harder for these authors to get published.

    From what didn’t make the list I’d have to say it was put together by someone on the inside looking in.

    Without many of the authors who were forgotten or just warranted a quick mention at the end, many teens would still be waiting for their stories to be told.

  30. Joey-la on #

    oh good lord. I would like to say sorry for my appaling spelling and grammar in my previous post. I do know it is Stephanie Meyer and controversial. I really should not comment or anything late at night…

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