This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What is a contemporary book you think might become a classic? Or should become a classic? This is a difficult question for me because I don’t read a lot of literary fiction which is, in my experience, what is most likely to be taken seriously. Even within genre fiction I’m not super likely to read the critically acclaimed literature as much as I am to read the fun literature.
But perhaps I have a bit firmer of a grasp on what is going to be remembered in children’s literature and YA. While kids lit has a firm set of books that are by and large considerd “classics”, YA is so new that other than The Outsiders it doesn’t. But since there is so much content written for teens now, I think it’s inevitable that these lists start coming out.
When thinking about what would be included in a list of YA classics, it’s impossible to believe that the list would not include something by John Green. He has been consistently producing work that has received critical acclaim for long enough to be, well, influential. The only question would be, which book? Looking for Alaska is the most widely used in schools, while The Fault in Our Stars is easily the most popular of his books. In my opinion Paper Towns has the most to say about what it means to be human. I think ultimately Looking for Alaska’s consistent use by teachers and frequent bannings (which keep it on the librarians’ radar) will land this book in the YA cannon as that begins to develop.
I also think it’s inevitable that The Hate U Give be remembered long-term. Aside from how stinking GOOD the book is and how many awards it won, it captures and preserves something important about this period in history and how people (and teens) responded to it. Being on the top of the best-seller list for 40+ weeks doesn’t hurt its bid at relevance either. The rawness and power of THUG is exactly the sort of thing that makes a book stand out over time, while its sharp critique of culture and policy give readers plenty to discuss and learn from.
It seems like contemporary Middle Grade literature gets into the canon or classic list much faster than adult or YA lit. I mean, Because of Winn-Dixie is less than twenty years old and it’s as classic as classics come. Sharon Creech and Pam Muñoz Ryan have also effectively solidified their spot in MG history, though both are still writing.
I think that The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate has a good bid at long-term relevance. Animal stories appeal to both kids and adults, and its similarities to Charlotte’s Web are not lost on me. Applegate’s writing is simple enough for struggling readers to be able to keep on, and lovely enough to have received all the attention. The writing is sweet enough(but not quite whimsical) to be compared to Kate diCamillo’s or Beverly Cleary’s, while still having dark elements that help it stand out from the crowd. It’s also absurdly popular with EVERYONE. Teachers, librarians, kids, parents, even Disney. And it make a great read aloud.
Another book that I hope is remembered, but it may be too early to tell, is Amina’s Voice by Henna Khan. This is hands down my favorite MG book I’ve read this year, maybe ever. The writing is SO gorgeous, the themes are relevant to every kid, and it paints a portrait of being an immigrant and Muslim in America that is both heart-breaking and so uplifting and hopeful. I love this book and I think everyone should read it, and I hope hope hope it doesn’t fall into oblivion.
What makes it into literary canon seems almost random, as much related to chance as it is to quality. It’s literally impossible to predict. So I could be way off base here. But as far as YA and MG classic literature goes, these are my bids.
What contemporary book do you think will or should become a classic?