The History of Young Adult Literature


“Teenagers today want to read about teenagers today. The world is changing, yet the authors of books for teenagers are still 15 years behind the times. In the fiction they write, romance is still the most popular theme with a horse and the girl who loved it coming in a close second. Nowhere is the drive-in social jungle mentioned. In short, where is the reality?”- S.E. Hinton in her article for The New York Times Book Review.

Books for young adults are now very popular. There are many popular series that have been classified as young adult such as The Mortal Instruments, Harry Potter, Twilight, and many more.

The two novels that brought YA literature to light were The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and The Contender by Robert Lipsyte. These novels were a sort of gritty alternative to books teenagers had been offered before. Before, novels had been called ‘junior novels’ and had no greater conflict than something like not having a date to prom. These novels were popular from the 1940s-50s and were pushed towards teenagers. Their settings usually took place in all white towns, following conventionally attractive teenagers. The Contender and The Outsiders offered more diverse casts and more interesting, darker settings, which was unthinkable for some people in the era in 1967, when they got published. Even though these were considered some of the first YA novels, books that were published before these were later considered to be YA. Books like Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye were originally marketed towards adults, but are now considered to be appropriate for teenagers.

The 1970s were considered to be a golden era of some sorts for young adult lit. Books like Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, and I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan were published in these times. These books are some books that dealt with more mature themes such as drug abuse and the effect guilt has on one’s conscious. The 80s were also a good era as more people contained to write for teenagers. Books such as Annie on my Mind, The Babysitters Club, and Howl’s Moving Castle would be brought into the light.

The 1990s were sort of a declining year for young adult books until the end of the decade. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone would come out in 1998 and the Goosebumps series rose to popularity, but in the beginning of the 1990s, many people feared that the young adult genre would become extinct. Despite the fact that it may have seemed like the end of an era to some, many popular books came out in this time. Books like The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith were published.

The 2000s are also considered to be a golden area for the young adult genre. Books such as The Hunger Games, Twilight, and The Book Thief were published. These would all become very popular and would become a staple in young reader’s childhoods. Many believe that the Harry Potter series paved the way for the 2000s era young adult, but that’s up to interpretation.

Young adult novels have come a long way from junior novels. The young adult genre now deals with themes such as racism and activism and gay teens trying to find their place in the world. Compared to seventy years ago, this would have been unbelievable to some people looking at the literature they were offered then.