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Reading 'Dune,' My Junior-High Survival Guide

by Leigh Bardugo
Nov 7, 2012

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Leigh Bardugo is also the author of The Witch of Duva.

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Leigh Bardugo is the author of Shadow and Bone.

Frank Herbert's Dune was the first coming-of-age story that resonated with me: drugs, destiny, messiah complexes — it had everything. But what really shook me was its scale. At age 12, my life was the tiny, miserable cycle of home, school and the mall. Dune cracked it all open. There was a hell of a good universe next door, several in fact, and that made my little world a lot more bearable.

While Holden Caulfield was moping and breaking windows, Paul Atreides (Dune's protagonist; Muad'Dib to the faithful) was equipping me with a junior-high survival guide. Paul is not a classic underdog. He's the son of a duke. He's been trained since birth in combat, diplomacy and general badassery by a cast of geniuses and battle-hardened weirdos with impossible-to-pronounce names. But when his world is turned upside down — when he leaves his home, loses his father and enters a physically and politically hostile environment — he doesn't whine and cry and brood. He adapts. To this day, I can recite the Bene Gesserit litany against fear. It's a great, geeky party trick, but back then it was also good gospel for an oft-pummeled kid:

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

Preach, my witchy sisters. The steady diet of literary fiction assigned by my teachers gave me plenty of characters with whom to commiserate, but not much concrete advice on how to endure daily snubs and painful insecurity. On Arrakis, resourcefulness was rewarded, strength was valued, and courage was required. OK, so Paul ends up being omniscient and worshipped as a god. But in junior high, a few delusions of grandeur can make for excellent armor. And as special as Paul is, it was the epic context of his story that made the real difference.

It's a cop-out to ascribe the appeal of science fiction and fantasy to escapism. Lots of literature is escapist and the very act of reading (whatever the content) necessarily takes you out of a given moment. For me, Dune was escapist, but more importantly, it was expansive. It was a glimpse at the infinite; at histories barely hinted at but wholly felt; at destinies constructed over millennia, thwarted in a lifetime and rebuilt in a heartbeat. Its scale was so vast that it literally redefined possibility for me.

I'd been slogging along, eyes on the ground, just trying to make it through another day of the relentless, petty slice and grind that is being a preteen girl. Herbert tilted my chin up so I could see the stars.

PG-13 is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Rose Friedman with production assistance from Annalisa Quinn.

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Top 100 Young Adult Novels (Harriet Russell)

Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

Aug 7, 2012

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It's almost a cliche at this point to say that teen fiction isn't just for teens anymore. Just last year, the Association of American Publishers ranked Children's/Young Adult books as the single fastest-growing publishing category.

Which is why we were only a little surprised to see the tremendous response that came in for this summer's Best-Ever Teen Fiction poll. A whopping 75,220 of you voted for your favorite young adult novels, blasting past the total for last year's science fiction and fantasy poll at, dare we say it, warp speed.

And now, the final results are in. While it's no surprise to see Harry Potter and the Hunger Games trilogy on top, this year's list also highlights some writers we weren't as familiar with. For example, John Green, author of the 2012 hit The Fault in Our Stars, appears five times in the top 100.

Selecting a manageable voting roster from among the more than 1,200 nominations that came in from readers wasn't easy, and we were happy to be able to rely on such an experienced panel of judges. But deciding what does and doesn't count as a young-adult novel isn't an exact science. If you're surprised not to see some of your favorite books among the winners, you might want to look at this blog post, which describes the thinking behind the tough calls.

Summer, like youth, is fleeting. But the books we read when we're young can stay with us for a lifetime. Here's hoping that when the school bell rings in a few short weeks, it will find you engrossed in just such a memorable read, selected by the NPR audience. Enjoy. (For your convenience, here's a printable version of the top-100 list, and here's a list of the 235 finalists.)

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Illustration: A robot reads a book. ( )

Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books

Aug 11, 2011

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More than 5,000 of you nominated. More than 60,000 of you voted. And now the results are in. The winners of NPR's Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy survey are an intriguing mix of classic and contemporary titles. Over on NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See, you can find one fan's thoughts on how the list shaped up, get our experts' take, and have the chance to share your own.

A quick word about what's here, and what's not: Our panel of experts reviewed hundreds of the most popular nominations and tossed out those that didn't fit the survey's criteria (after — we assure you — much passionate, thoughtful, gleefully nerdy discussion). You'll notice there are no young adult or horror books on this list, but sit tight, dear reader, we're saving those genres for summers yet to come.

So, at last, here are your favorite science-fiction and fantasy novels. (And a printable version, to take with you to the bookstore.)

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