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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Outstanding Books for the College Bound

Every five years, YALSA publishes new Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Readers lists. The 2014 lists were announced last week.

The selection committee is asked to determine five broad categories, and this year they stuck with the traditional ones (which work very well): Arts and Humanities, History and Cultures, Literature and Language Arts, Science and Technology, and Social Sciences. Up to 25 titles are chosen for each category, so this is a substantial undertaking.

The purpose: “The lists are primarily intended for students in grades 9-12 who wish to enrich and strengthen their knowledge of various subject areas in both classic and contemporary literature.” But also, “A YALSA committee of public and secondary school librarians selected the 2014 list in collaboration with academic librarians from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL).  Revised every five years, this list is intended as a tool for several audiences: students preparing for college, parents, educators, and librarians.”

The really interesting thing about these lists? The books can come from the past or be recent publications. They can be adult or YA. They should be “widely available” but they don’t all have to be currently in print. Categories that sound primarily nonfiction always have some fiction mixed in. For example, the Science and Technology category has a stretch book like Spillover by David Quammen right next to a teen favorite, The Knife of Never Letting Go.

The 2014 lists are simply fantastic. The titles are accessible, grounded in excellent writing and appeal. I found many titles that we reviewed and championed on AB4T. For example, I was thrilled to see Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown (one of my favorite booktalks), Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo and Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. These are titles that didn’t make the Alex Awards, but found a perfect home here.

There are Alex Award titles included, such as Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, The Round House, Girl in Translation, The New Kids, and The Oxford Project.

The lists tend to be nonfiction-heavy, and that is a wonderful thing. Most of the nonfiction titles are adult, but a few of the recent best YA nonfiction titles found their way here, including Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose and No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. (I do miss Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman, which would seem like a natural.)

Even the fiction is heavily focused on widening a reader’s experience, emphasizing global awareness and ethnic diversity. An old favorite that I thought had been mostly forgotten found its way here — Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène centers on a young Moroccan teen living with her mother in the projects in France.

As a high school librarian, I find that most of these titles are already on my shelves. Those that weren’t on my radar certainly are now. This is the most useful YALSA list for me for collection development, and that’s saying a lot. The lists are well worth taking some time to read through and share with students, teachers and administration. There is great fodder for displays, summer reading lists, curriculum, and pleasure reading.

And finally, a little BSP — I edited a book, Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (2011), for YALSA which offers ideas on how to use OBCB titles, focusing on the 1999, 2004 and 2009 lists. Thus my enthusiasm!  My respect for the OBCB only grew during the months I spent on that project.


Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. Angela Carstensen says:

    I love that Joyce Valenza has a post up about this list, too!

  2. Mark Flowers says:

    Very excited to see David Crystal’s SPELL IT OUT, which I reviewed here (, as well as Nova Ren Suma’s 17 & GONE, which I was beginning to think I was the only one to have loved.

  3. Angela Carstensen says:

    I need to correct myself. No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is a “documentary novel” and considered fiction. My apologies!