04 May 2012

What Makes YA Novels a Goodread

by Winonah Drake

To a bibliophile, Goodreads is like a set of new crayons and a blank wall to a toddler. It's a site dedicated to book reviews and recommendations, covering everything from ancient writings to current releases. After writing a review of my sister's book, it suggested a few more I might want to review, then just a few more and I quickly found myself on a trip down memory lane. Books I’d read between the ages of 8 and 13 evoked the strongest feelings, so I was most eager to write reviews for them.
The Handbook of the Writer Secret Society on Good Reads

Young adults choose books to reinforce the kind of person they’re deciding to be. The situations might be less complex in a YA book, but that means the characters’ and the readers’ feelings are more raw. Writing reviews for James and the Giant Peach, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Whipping Boy made me feel like I was writing a recommendation for a well-deserved Nobel Prize for the authors. Booklovers want the whole world to know what stories mean to them, so I put my feelings into words as well as I could. What I loved about each story came down to the same things, which I’ve outlined below.

The characters face real problems.

It’s up to them to figure out what they can do about it. Young adults choose a book because it puts someone they can relate to in a situation they’d like to test themselves in. The author doesn’t spare the readers from the danger the protagonists are in, and the readers love them for it.

The challenges they face are relevant to the audience.

The setting can be fantasy, historical, or foreign, but the problems the main characters work through are the same ones the readers are dealing with.

The main characters should do what the readers would do.

The hero doesn’t have to decide on the same course of action the reader wants, but s/he does have to face it. Young adults don’t want to see their heroes get saved or run away; the reader wants the hero to use their own best qualities to save the day.

The situations are believable.

Even in a fairy tale, human nature doesn’t change. The characters need food, shelter, clothing, and water, or a reasonable explanation as to why they’re not necessary given the circumstances. Anything else the characters are working toward will preserve what’s good about the world they’re in. Readers lose interest quickly if they’ve joined the antagonist or betrayed a lovable character without a good reason, or at least the promise that things will turn around.

Ever since my youngest sister mailed her copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to me overseas, I’ve been a renewed fan of Young Adult books. We don’t grow out of the issues they deal with as much as we need to work in more details to reflect our adult lives. This makes a good YA book refreshing for anyone now and then. What you read when you’re young informs your choices in ways you can’t see; my favorite authors now are Terry Pratchett, Jules Verne, and Carl Sagan, each of whom rework science and philosophy in imaginative ways I came to love when I first read those Young Adult Books.



  1. Awesome post Winonah. I'm just getting into Goodreads.

  2. I never really thought of the process of finding a good book.

    I should look at Goodreads.