Teens' Top Ten Criteria

Six pilot teen groups met in 2001 to brainstorm criteria for Teens' Top Ten Books. Their excellent results are gratefully acknowledged in this compilation from the Teen Advisory Board at Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana; the Teen Advisory Council at B. B. Comer Memorial Library in Sylacauga, Alabama; the Rave Review Book Group at Blue Valley Library in Overland Park, Kansas; the Teen Library Council at Carmel Clay Public Library in Carmel, Indiana; the Teen Review Board at East Lansing Public Library in East Lansing, Michigan; and the Young Adult Advisory Council at Mesa Public Library in Mesa, Arizona.

1. Appeal and Involvement

A TTT book should have lasting and universal appeal to teens between the ages of 12 and 18, not necessarily mass or popular appeal. It should keep readers' interest through personal, often emotional involvement with the book. A TTT book should also be memorable and worth reading again. Ideally, if you read the book ten years later, you would still like it as an adult.

Packaging is important. The book's cover should catch your attention, draw you in, and relate to what is inside the book—no bait-and-switch covers. The summary on the back or flap should be accurate, helping potential readers to judge their interest in reading it. The book's size and format in hardcover or paperback should fit the content.

2. Literary Quality

A TTT book should be a "book of substance," not a "fluffy." Each book should be unique, not a clone of every other teen book. A TTT book offers a new perspective, a new way of thinking.

3. Characters

A TTT book has characters who are similar in age to the reader, at least 12 years old and up—not too young to understand or experience teen problems and concerns. Characters are realistic and compelling. Readers relate personally to them. Even in fantasy or horror, characters should be true to themselves—acting the way they would act. Each character should be distinctive.

4. Content and Style

A TTT book's subject matter applies to teens. If the story is about social issues that teens face, it should be realistic, not sugar-coated. Good descriptions help readers picture the setting; great imagery lets you feel as if you're there. A TTT book is never condescending to the reader.

5. Plot

A TTT book has a strong, memorable plot that plays out in your head like a movie—imagining the events is effortless. You forget that the events didn't actually happen, even if you know realistically that they couldn't have (as in science fiction and fantasy). The book should have a good balance of action and description, with a satisfying ending—not necessarily happy.

6. Genres

The TTT list should represent as many genres as possible, as well as a broad range of interests, containing something for all different types of teen readers (for example, not all realistic fiction). Nonfiction is well organized and covers an interesting topic, offering a fresh viewpoint. It must be accurate yet readable and concise. When appropriate, good illustrations support the writing.