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Watch the Epic Reads video: A Brief History of YA

We pretty much breathe, eat, and sleep all things young adult books, but where did it come from? What’s the actual definition? Let us break down everything you need to know about how YA came about!

Once upon a time, there was only adult books, and that sucked. But then, in the 1940s and 50s, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys helped paved the way for modern YA which began to blossom in the 1960s.

We put together this quick video to highlight young adult literature throughout the decades that help explain how YA lit has evolved to the massive, pop culture phenomenon it is today.

 

The Beginning

Many of the books that we now consider to be young adult texts were initially written for adults and only later categorized as YA. One of the first books to be written and published for young adults was The Outsiders and it still remains the quintessential YA book today.

The Catcher in the Rye Lord of the Flies The Outsiders

 

1970s

YA lit blossomed in the 1970s, moving away from the traditional children’s stories of previous years. In what is called the “Golden Age of young adult literature,” authors published more realistic and controversial titles.

Novels published in this decade introduced hard-hitting topics such as death, sex, underage drinking, homelessness, and drug use.

Notable YA books of the 1970s:
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart (1970)
Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks (1971)
Heads You Win, Tails I Lose by Isabelle Holand (1973)
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (1974)
Forever by Judy Blume (1975)
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan (1975)
Gentlehands by M.E. Kerr (1978)
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews (1979)

The Crystal Cave by Mary StewartGo Ask AliceHeads You Win, Tails I LoseThe Chocolate War by Robert CormierForever by Judy BlumeI Know What You Did Last SummerGentlehands by M.E. KerrFlowers in the Attic

 

1980s

YA lit continued to grow in the 1980s as more authors began writing for teenagers. The Sweet Valley High series became the first young adult book to reach the New York Times paperback best-seller list.

Some authors began experimenting with style and genre, giving variety to YA.

Notable YA books of the 1980s:
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (1983)
Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal (1983)
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (1984)
The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin (1986)
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (1986)
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block (1989)

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine PatersonFallen Angels by Walter Dean MyersSweet Valley HighThe Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinleyThe Babysitters ClubHowl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

 

1990s

The horror genre persisted in the 1990s as the Goosebumps series became immensely popular.

But the early 1990s was also a darker time for young adult literature as less young adult novels were being published. Many feared the extinction of the genre.

But, a rise in youth culture in the late 1990s helped young adult literature swing back into favor.

Notable YA books of the 1990s:
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney (1990)
The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith (1991)
Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (1992)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
Sabriel by Garth Nix (1995)
Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen (1998)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)

The Face on the Milk CartonGoosebumpsSabrielSomeone Like You 

 

2000s

In the early 2000s, different book awards (Printz Award, Edwards Award, Alex Awards) were created specifically to honor YA lit. At the same time, Twilight and The Hunger Games popularized paranormal and dystopian series that reigned supreme in the mid to late 2000s.

This is known as the Second Golden Age of YA. (Also yes, Harry Potter really helped usher in a wave of new YA books in the early 00s, but we didn’t include it in this video because technically, it is published for middle graders, not teens! But that’s super technical and we totally bow down to Queen Rowling.)

Notable YA books of the 2000s:
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (2000)
Feed by M.T. Anderson (2002)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005)
Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005)
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2006)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

The Princess DiariesFeedThe Book ThiefTwilightAmerican Born ChineseThe Hunger Games

 

Now

Now we have new YA books and series being published across all genres. They tackle all types of issues and explore numerous new worlds.

Where will YA go from here? Who knows! But we can’t wait to find out.

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaChallenger DeepMagonia


 

What are your favorite YA novels published in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and which ones are you excited to read in the future?