Librarians Recommend Speculative Fiction

Christian Fantasy

A recent survey that analyzed library lending and recommendations sheds some light on the popularity of speculative fiction in our culture, especially as it relates to young adults. This survey drew responses from thirty-five teen and children’s librarians regarding the books they recommend and the books most checked out in their libraries.

While all the librarians in the survey tailored their recommendations to fit the individual, some clear trends in favor of the speculative emerged. Out of the top twenty-three librarian recommended series for teens, twenty-one were speculative (fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, dystopian, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and supernatural). Stand-alone titles were more mixed, perhaps because speculative fiction tends to release series, but speculative fiction still made a strong representation.

Librarian recommendations appeared to directly reflect reading interests, based on what books circulated most. Out of the twenty-eight series reported as most circulated, twenty-four were speculative.

Though I don’t write YA fantasy (as of now), I still find the results relevant, primarily because I believe many young adults read adult speculative fiction as well. This survey didn’t examine that topic, so I’m mostly relying on observational evidence. Avid teen readers tend to read both inside and outside the young adult category.

CS Lewis observed this trend back in his day, saying, “I need not remind such an audience as this that the neat sorting-out of books into age groups, so dear to publishers, has only a very sketchy relation with the habits of any real readers. Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table.”

While I understand the purpose of publishers making divisions and categories for the sake of marketing, my experience suggests that the avid readers of YA speculative fiction are likely to consume adult speculative titles as well, making this library report good news for both young adult and adult writers alike.

What is your view on the cross-over between adult and young adult fiction? Do you think young adult interest in speculative fiction carries over to adult titles? I’d like to hear what others have observed and experienced.


  • Mary
    October 14, 2011 - 1:35 pm · Reply

    Personally, I think people put too much effort into trying to create a sharp distinction between Adult and YA fiction. Try to define the distinct difference between an adult and a young adult. Where is the line? I suspect it’s probably much the same with trying to categorize YA and Adult fiction.
    It’s very interesting to note the library trends in speculative fiction, though.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 17, 2011 - 5:07 pm · Reply

      You’re absolutely right, Mary. There are legal boundaries that mark adulthood, but some people are more mature at sixteen than others are at thirty-six. Apart from individual differences, society through the ages has viewed adulthood as beginning at different points. So I think the conception of ages and maturity play a role in the question of the dividing line between adult and young adult fiction.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
    October 14, 2011 - 3:19 pm · Reply

    For all intents and purposes, the difference between YA, middle grade, and adult is the age of the protagonist.

    Lewis, again, has that great quote about no children’s book being worthwhile unless it is worth reading again as an adult. (I think it was Lewis, and I think that was the gist of the comment. Geeesh. I’m not good on the fly.) 🙄


    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 17, 2011 - 5:13 pm · Reply

      I think the age of the protagonist is a huge factor, but it seems to me that gets muddied a bit when it comes to fantasy. Often in fantasy worlds, younger characters may be considered and treated as adults in the fantasy culture, and they face adult problems. In that case, it seems somewhat strange to me to classify them as YA. But protagonist age is a helpful rule of thumb.

      I know just what Lewis quote you’re referring to, and it just so happens I have the quote nearby. Here it is: “A children’s story enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.” 🙂

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