Build a Bookstore: Young Adult Novels and Non-Fiction

Alison Morris -- December 1st, 2008

What young adult novels and non-fiction should no self-respecting bookstore be without? That’s my question for today, and it kicks off my "Build a Bookstore" theme for the week. Here’s what prompted this discussion.

We recently sold a copy of Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voight and I decided, after a LOT of hemming and hawing and silently berating myself, NOT to reorder the book. I had already given Homecoming the axe a couple months ago, and now I, in essence, have done the same with this "classic" of young adult literature. WHY? Because that recent sale was the first one we’d had on that title in two years. Homecoming had been sitting for even longer. Given that we barely have enough room to shelve all the books in our YA section, let alone have adequate room for face-outs, I have to be a lot more choosy about how much space I devote to books I consider "important" that just aren’t pulling their monetary weight. We can ALWAYS special order out-of-stock titles for any customers who want them, so it’s not like we’re making these books unavailable — we’re just making them less immediately accessible. And if customers begin requesting them on a slightly more frequent basis (say three times a year rather than once every other year!), and/or if the publisher reissues them with newer (preferably better) covers, I can always alter my decision and put them back in the game. For now, though, they’re effectively "sitting the bench."

As I relegated Homecoming and Dicey’s Song (two books that I loved when I was in junior high) to the sideline, I thought about all those people out there who would think I’d made a terrible decision — who would say that no self-respecting bookstore should be without a copy of these seminal works. And that got me thinking about all the books we booksellers DO hold onto, even when they’re rarely (if ever) purchased by customers. As a buyer, you can only have so many of these designated "classics" before your store runs the risk of being something akin to a non-circulating library, rather than a profit-turning bookstore. But those MUST-HAVE books do exist! And I know for a fact that the list of titles that make that list differs from store to store, buyer to buyer, even reader to reader.

SO, this week I’m putting the question to you knowledgeable, book-loving folks. What books should no self-respecting bookstore be without? To make this a more interesting discussion/more helpful list of suggestions for stores, I’m limiting each day’s submissions to a specific age category. This will also give you more time to think about each of these categories before you’re prompted to supply your thoughts!
I’m placing another limit on you too: up to FIVE books per commenter. That’s it. You are allowed to name no more than five books for each age group. Putting this limit on your suggestions will (I hope) force each of you to really think about which books are true must-haves for any one batch.

Today’s topic is young adult novels and YA non-fiction (prompted by my aforementioned decision regarding Dicey’s Song).

TUESDAY will be middle grade novels and non-fiction for upper elementary/middle school.

WEDNESDAY will be picture books and non-fiction for lower elementary/preschool.

THURSDAY will be books for babies and toddlers (board books, picture books, bath books, cloth books, assorted odd novelty formats for little tykes).

FRIDAY will be (what the heck?) books for grown-ups. Because I know some of you actually read those too!

So: back to today’s topic. Your task is to list UP TO FIVE young adult novels and/or non-fiction books you think no self-respecting bookstore should be without. Yes, your list of titles can contain some of the same titles that others’ do. If the same title crops up repeatedly, that’ll suggest to the rest of us that that particular title is especially worthy (or "important’) by consensus.

I’ll go first (boy, is this hard!)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (an instant classic, in my book)
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

ARGH! I can’t tell you how painful that was, or how many titles wound up on the cutting room floor. I’m hoping those not included in my list of must-haves will show up in yours, so have at it! (And starting thinking NOW about what middle grade novels you’re going to list tomorrow…)

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