Build a Bookstore: Young Adult Novels and Non-Fiction

Alison Morris - December 1, 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…)

41 thoughts on “Build a Bookstore: Young Adult Novels and Non-Fiction

  1. Carole

    We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Weatherford Our Eleanor by Candace Fleming House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

  2. Saundra Mitchell

    The Outsiders by SE Hinton, Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume, Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan.

  3. Tracey Taylor

    This is useful — to a point. I would love to know why you selected the five books. What makes them special to yoo? I only know the Pullman book and am trying to decide what new books to get for my 13-year-old boy.

  4. Rebecca

    Perks of Being a Wallflower (Chbosky) Looking for Alaska (Green) Speak (Anderson) The Power of One (Courtenay) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman)

  5. Susan Brown

    Please don’t agonize about slow-selling oldies. Libraries can and should fulfill this role more so than bookstores dependant on sales. And, as you mentioned, you can always re-order if demand warrants. (And I really don’t think either of these titles would be an impulse purchase or the result of serendipitous browsing on your bookstore shelves.) But here’s an oldie that still seems to be in demand and could possibly be on the must have list: Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. Another suggestion: Tyrell by Coe Booth.

  6. cwvirden

    The complete HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy by Philip Pullman (or anything else!) THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT by Mark Haddon, I AM THE CHEESE by Robert Cormier

  7. Dave Sloane

    Unquestionably, “Tarzan of the Apes” and “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs, most of Robert Heinlein’s, especially, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” and “Colony VII” by J. H. Long.

  8. teacherninja

    A classic is a book that’s still in print. It’s still in print because it sells. It sells because people buy it. That is all. There is no magic list of books–it’s ever changing. I love most of the books mentioned so far, but they’ll be in your store if people are buying them and they won’t if they don’t.

  9. Kathy

    Looking for Alaska – Green, I am the Messenger – Zusak, Speak – Anderson, Little Brother – Doctorow, Thirteen Reasons Why – Asher

  10. MM

    I agree with the idea of keeping what sells on the shelves, but I also think a bookstore should have the Newberry winners (some of which end up being classics, others which end up fading away). Top 5: The Hunger Games, The Outsiders, Tomorrow When the War Began, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Abundance of Katherines.

  11. reader

    But the thing is: far fewer people will buy the book from you if it isn’t in the store. (Why special order if you can get it on Amazon?) As someone who shops in the Wellesley Booksmith, I can tell you that I like to go to bookstores that are likely to have in stock whatever *good* book I happen to be looking for. And that usually isn’t a recent best seller. If there is no bookstore that seems to be run by people with independent minds and independent tastes nearby, i.e., if all I can count on is that the bookstore will have in stock the latest Stephanie Meyer, I start going immediately to Amazon rather than even trying the bookstore first (and I’m a serious supporter of independent bookstores). So I do think that this is a decision to agonize about. And yes, very possibly someone will actually find a book in a bookstore, a book that hasn’t been all over the media, and think that it looks good and buy it. I used to do this all the time, but I do it less so now that bookstores, including independents, are beginning more and more to stock the same well-known, widely publicized, best-selling titles. I know that there are financial realities to be dealt with, but I’m very sad to hear about this decision.

  12. Nicole

    ok, I’m a bit late to this party…Monday’s answer; “Ironman” Crutcher; “The Chocolate War” Cormier; “The Only Alien on the Planet” Randle; “Monster” Myers; …and the 5th book? ACK! The pressure is too great! I can’t do it…

  13. Nicole

    Tuesday…hmmm…”Maniac Magee” Spinelli; “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” Speare; “Bridge to Terabithia” Paterson; “Sounder” Armstrong; and (of course) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

  14. Rachel

    Marcus Zuzak “The Book Thief”, Susanne Collins “Hunger Games”, Harper Lee “To Kill a Mockingbird”, M.T. Anderson “Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing”, “Chocolate War” Robert Cormier.

  15. Jazz

    The Giver by Lois Lowry Number the Stars by Lois Lowry The Weetzie Bat Books by Francesca Lia Block His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

  16. prophetman

    “Feed” by M.T. Anderson; “The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm” by Nancy Farmer; “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee; “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card; “The Golden Compass” by Phillip Pullman Hard to pick just five, but those are some of my favorites.

  17. ohioyabookseller

    I more than agree with the love for Hunger Games, Frankie, Little Brother, all in my top five of the year, but to challenge myself, I knocked them off my list. Regular school required reads (Mockingbird, Outsiders, etc.)went as well. That leaves me with A Northern Light Gingerbread Looking for Alaska Speak Ender’s Game

  18. jo

    No doubt in my mind- The Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Flies, The Chocolate War, Go, Ask Alice, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret Such life changing books for me.

  19. Di Bates (Australia)

    The Book Thief (Markus Zusak), The Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankenweiler (EL Konisburg), Dare Devils (Bill Condon), Before I Die (Jenny Downham), How I Live Now (Meg Rossoff), A Gathering Light (Jennifer Donnelly), Missing Girl (Norma Fox Mazer), The Year the Gypsies Came (Liniz Glass), The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kid, Wrangler (Jerry Spinelli). So I cheated! Five is never enough — nor is ten! YA novels rule!

  20. Dave Freer

    The ogre downstairs (Diana Wynne Jones) Truckers (Terry Pratchett) Something by Patricia Wrede,Eion Colfer, and Lemony Snickett. All selected to get taken off the shelf and – when read – get kids back into your bookstore, often. Most of the PC and ‘you ought to read this’ books won’t do that. While I am delighted my sons got to the diary of Anne Frank, they would not have if it had not been for book addiction fuelled by those authors.

  21. Eric

    Harry Potter/The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Vol 1.: The Pox Party/ The Graveyard Book/Peter Pan/The Golden Compass

  22. Mary Crabtree

    The Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily (Dino Buzzati) The Story of the Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly (Luis Sepulvida) The Book of the Dun Cow (Walter Wangerin) His Dark Materials Series (Pullman) I highly recommend all of these!

  23. Deeth

    I agree with so many of the books mentioned and want to throw two graphic novels into the mix, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and American Born Chinese by Gene Yang.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *