Daniel Hahn, John Boyne and Jenny Valentine by Eleanor

Today I saw these three authors sit down and attempt an incredibly difficult task: choosing the top ten young adult (YA) novels. It was fascinating to hear what they picked and their arguments for them. I’ve often been put off YA fiction by the way it’s transformed into a genre full of The Hunger Games spin-offs- this event has definitely made me rethink that view and given me loads of great new books for my to-read list!
One really interesting part of this event was their discussion of what defined a ‘YA book’. As a well-recognised YA author, Jenny Valentine finds it patronising how people feel under an obligation to adjust their books, making the themes appropriate for readers. She doesn’t think about her audience when writing, saying that’s the publisher’s job. John Boyne agreed, saying he wrote YA books by writing adult books but then sticking children in them. This was reflected in the books he chose, with dark themes such as the Irish Troubles – he justified these choices by saying a book isn’t about the themes behind it but about the voice it’s written in. Even books with the most depressing of themes can be made light if written in the right style.
The audience had the the opportunity to let their opinions be heard, suggesting a tenth book for the list. The final result was a close call between His Dark Materials and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – the latter won but it felt that if only there were more time, the matter could have been debated endlessly. “If only it could be a hundred books,” Valentine said, which I feel summed up the spirit of the event pretty well.

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