Welcome to the finals of EW.com’s YA novel bracket game, a March Madness style tournament that will determine the best Young Adult novel of all time — as voted by you.
And then there were two – Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars. Will Potter take home the crown of best YA novel of all time, or is John Green’s heartbreaking work the one that will win it all?
See the road to the finals in our full bracket here, and vote in the poll below. For more, check out staff picks of books that didn’t make it as far as we would have liked – including The Outsiders, A Wrinkle in Time, Holes and The Earthsea Cycle.
Voting closes at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. The winner will be announced Monday.
The Harry Potter series
Writing about why, exactly, Harry Potter is so great is a bit of an undertaking simply because it feels so massive. With over 450 million copies in print, it’s easy to say that it is the phenomenon of the past two decades. But while the Harry Potter world has gotten much larger over the years – with eight blockbuster films, parodies, product tie-ins and even a theme park (or two) – the best of Harry always comes back to J.K. Rowling’s sprawling imagination and her seven wonderful tales about Harry.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher/Sorcerer’s Stone, is notable for the original creation of the world. Never forget that Rowling’s imagination not only dug up a plot, but a whole host of original locations, rules, and governing bodies. This was the novel where we first learned of Hogwarts, and were first introduced to Rowling’s gift for creating interesting characters – like when readers met enigma of the series, Severus Snape. To read Harry Potter is to have had at least one way-too-long passionate conversation with someone about whether he was truly good (“He loved Lily!”) or evil (“Um, He killed Dumbledore”).
Readers quickly became accustomed to other Rowling identifiers as well: Her playful sense of language (for example, Diagon and Knockturn Alley) and how well she was able to lay out a complicated plot, with throwaway sentences in book two becoming major plot arcs by volume six. But while the first two volumes were great, many fans would agree it was her third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where the tale really became elevated to something even more special. Through the introduction of Sirius Black, readers were able to get a backstory and through that, higher stakes and a much richer magical world. This was, after all, the novel that gave us the Marauders, time-turners, and mischief officially being managed. While the whole series is a coming-of-age tale, Azkaban in particular was the part of the story where Harry came to appreciate his roots, and through that, what his future could be.
It was an incredible feat, but Rowling was just getting started. Who can forget how she totally nailed teenage awkwardness with the Yule Ball, or the scary political overtones of Professor Umbridge? Even as the world watched – an added challenge that many of the other books in this bracket didn’t have to contend with – later volumes still managed to meet worldwide sky-high expectations, including a final installment that delivered a stirring, thrilling, emotional and even surprising conclusion.
But it’s not just the words on the page. This bracket game was all about YA – the coming-of-age tales that we remember and inextricably shape who we are. And it’s in that way that Harry Potter dominates all. It’s through Harry that tons of kids growing up with the series became avid readers. It’s through Harry that adults reading it for the first time are able to share something with their kids, or just get an unexpected thrill out of a wonderful story. It’s through Harry that readers can feel like they’re a part of a very special club, that, as J.K. Rowling once said, “will always be there to welcome you home.”
The Fault in Our Stars
On paper, The Fault In Our Stars should have been the most gut-wrenching and depressing book in the YA canon: Two teens, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, meet in a cancer support group and, despite Hazel knowing she only has a little bit of time left, manage to fall for each other in a spirited, fully engrossing love story. The book is sad, yes, but it’s a triumph of author John Green’s plot, heightened teen-speak dialogue, and humorous moments that manage to make the tale a phenomenon (a movie version, starring Shailene Woodley, hits theaters next June), as opposed to a high school reading list tale that many will take great pains to avoid.
It’s no wonder that, like Hazel’s favorite story An Imperial Affliction, once you read the story it stays with you. It’s not enough to enjoy in silence; many readers are discovering that they’ve also got to get all their friends on board as well.
There wasn’t much surprise among the EW staff that the recent hit made it far. But going back over the pages, it’s easy to see that this story, while popular, isn’t just a flavor of the week; it’s enduring. There are so many standout scenes in the 318-paged tale. America’s Next Top Model-loving Hazel, with her awkward teen vulnerability got readers on her side, while Augustus and his witty bravado makes both teens and their moms swoon. The duo’s Genies-sponsored trip to Amsterdam, which includes champagne! and reclusive author Peter Van Houten! and Anne Frank’s house! and happiness! and devastation! is unforgettable.
To say more would spoil what is truly a literary treat best discovered for yourself. But ultimately, Fault In Our Stars is greater than the sum of its parts. The story between two teens elevates into teaching us about one of the very best and most confusing parts of the human condition – the power of love.