What makes a best-selling novel for adolescents? I decided to read two teen novels that have enjoyed huge popularity. One was published in 2007 and another in 2011. In January of 2013 both were still on the New York Times bestseller list.
As I read Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie I looked for what characteristics the novels share that might have contributed to their massive success.
1. They have a male protagonist.
2. They are written in the first person.
3. The hero of each story is part of a minority group- Jacob in Peculiar Children is Jewish and Arnold in True Diary is a Spokane Indian.
4. Their mothers and fathers are well-meaning but struggle with personal problems of their own that make it difficult for them to effectively parent their sons.
5. The main characters have a close relationship with a grandparent and that grandparent has a huge impact on their life. Both Jacob’s grandfather and Arnold’s grandmother die in the story.
6. The main characters each have a friend who is a stereotypical bad boy. Jacob’s friend Ricky in Peculiar Children has green hair, smokes, spits and drives a battered old car. He’s described as a “punk, redneck James Dean”. Arnold’s friend Rowdy in True Diary is “the toughest kid on the reservation”. Both Rowdy and Ricky help protect their friends from……..
7.Bullies! Bullies of various kinds plague our heroes and they must each find the courage to face them.
8. The novels contain a fair bit of profanity.
9. Characters in both books meet with violent deaths which are described quite graphically.
10. Jacob and Arnold are exceptionally intelligent.
11. Our protagonists have medical issues. Jacob is seeing a psychologist because of crippling phobias and Arnold has poor eyesight, stutters and experiences seizures.
12. The young men end up with attractive girlfriends. Jacob has Emma and Arnold has Penelope.
13. The two main characters are not middle class. Arnold’s family is incredibly poor and Jacob’s is incredibly rich.
14. There is an important visual element in each book.
Arnold is a gifted cartoonist and illustrates his diary with his lots of drawings.
There are many photos of the peculiar children and adults Jacob befriends in his novel.
It would be interesting to read all the books on the teen best seller list and see how many of these fourteen characteristics the others would share. Which of the fourteen do you think are the most important to include in a successful novel for teens?
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MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?