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How Young Adult Bestsellers Tell Us That We're Doomed

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Books | September 22, 2014 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Books | September 22, 2014 |

On Friday, I reviewed the atrocious Maze Runner, and there was an interesting discussion in the comments about what the current trend in youth dystopian fiction had to say about the future of our species. The answers were either nothing, or that we’re doomed. So I decided to poke through the USA Today bestseller lists (by virtue of those being the first ones I found on the google) for the last five years or so and see what exactly it is that youths are reading these days while lolling around on our lawns.

The verdict is not good.

Here are the five top selling youth/young adult novels each year back to 2009.

New Moon, Eclipse, Twilight, Breaking Dawn, The Host

Breaking Dawn, Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, Percy Jackson #1, Eclipse, Hunger Games

Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, Inheritance, The Son of Neptune: The Heroes of Olympus, Book Two

Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, Heroes of Olympus: The Mark of Athena, The Kane Chronicles: The Serpent’s Shadow

Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Allegiant, The Book Thief, The Heroes of Olympus: The House of Hades

2014 (so far):
If I Stay, The Fault in Our Stars, The Giver, Where She Went, Divergent

There are some assumptions going on here that should be clarified, since the line between children’s and young adult is sometimes fuzzy. For example, I classified the Diaries of a Wimpy Kid books as children’s (they’re aimed at about middle school), but if you felt strongly about including those, there’d be a different one of them on here for each year.

Here’s one interesting thing to point out, here’s the fraction of those bestsellers that feature a female protagonist:

2009: 100%
2010: 80%
2011: 60%
2012: 60%
2013: 60%

Of course, despite those numbers, most of them are due to the literary abortions of Stephenie Meyer. And the remaining ones with female protagonists are so wrapped up in their romantic possibilities that they probably couldn’t even pass the Bechdel test despite having hundreds of pages to work in a single conversation with another woman about going to the freaking bathroom or some such.

And if I’m reading it right, every single book on here has either been adapted to a film, or is part of a series that has at least one book adapted. I’d say that would be a good sign about how reading is driving filmmaking, but it’s probably more honest to point out that simplistic popular crappy books are easily adapted to simplisitic popular crappy movies.

What does this say about youth today? Probably that China has already won the 21st century, and now we’re just playing for runner up.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.