The 1990s started out a lot like the '80s had been — plenty of hard-hitting contemporary YA books about gritty topics. Jerry Spinelli's novel Maniac Magee (1990; 1991 Newbery Medal) tackles themes of homelessness and prejudice. Julie Johnston's Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me (1994) tells the story of a girl's experience in the foster care system, and Mary Downing Hahn wrote The Wind Blows Backward (1993), which touches on depression, sex and underage drinking. Han Nolan's Dancing on the Edge (1997) portrays a young girl struggling to keep a grip on her sanity, and the protagonist of Caroline B. Cooney's The Face on the Milk Carton (1991) discovers she was abducted as a child. And for really edgy stuff, there was Shelley Stoehr's Crosses (1991; substance abuse and self-harm) and Melvin Burgess' Smack (1996; heroin addiction and teen prostitution).
|The 1994 paperback cover. *So* early nineties. He has definitely got the whole brooding-dude-in-a-leather-jacket thing down, and that font? Wow.|
Speak (2000 Printz Honor), about a girl who is raped. (And no, I haven't read it yet, and yes, I know I should!)
|I'm sorry, but I've never been a fan of this cover on sight, although it does fit the dark tone of the subject matter. Maybe it would make more sense once I've read the book, though?|
On the lighter side of contemporary, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor continued her Alice series, with Reluctantly Alice (1991), All But Alice (1992), Alice in April (1993), Alice-In-Between (1994), Alice the Brave (1995), Alice in Lace (1996), Outrageously Alice (1997), Achingly Alice (1998), and Alice on the Outside (1999). I own a ton of these books, and because practically every time a new book comes out, the entire series gets a cover makeover, I have just about every incarnation of an Alice cover style you can imagine. (This also means most of my covers don't match each other, but I don't really mind that.) All of the following are my copies of various Alice books:
|"Is this s'more safe to eat?" 1992 paperback.|
|1995 paperback. No clue why Patrick looks like he's seen a ghost or why Alice ever agreed to wear that sweater.|
|1996 paperback. Elizabeth (the girl on the right) appears to be regressing and has dropped about 5 years off her age since Reluctantly Alice.|
|Yeah, I'd have that same terrified expression on my face if I were wearing that swimsuit. 1996 paperback.|
|1998 and 1999 paperbacks. Definitely an improvement on some of the previous cover designs, especially with the funky, inviting font. And yes, Alice really wears her hair like that in Outrageously Alice.|
Oh, how these early Sarah Dessen covers make me wince.
But despite all of these realistic YA novels being written, the genre that really exploded in the 1990s was fantasy. Some of my favourite YA fantasy books were published in this decade, including Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Dealing with Dragons, 1990; Searching for Dragons, 1991; Calling on Dragons, 1993; Talking to Dragons, first published 1985 before the rest of the series was written, but it's actually chronologically the final book) and Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel (1997) and Court Duel (1998; these two are now repackaged as one novel, Crown Duel).
Wild Magic, 1992; Wolf-Speaker, 1994; Emperor Mage, 1995; The Realms of the Gods, 1996), her Circle of Magic series (Sandry's Book, 1997; Tris's Book, 1998; Daja's Book, 1998; Briar's Book, 1999), and beginning her Protector of the Small series (First Test, 1999). I have no idea how she did it. Seriously.
|This is my copy, and it's the original 1999 hardcover. I remember splitting the cost of this one with my sister because we were both Tamora Pierce fans!|
Fairy tales resurfaced in the 1990s. One of my all-time favourite YA reads, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, was published in 1997 and was a 1998 Newbery Honor book. I absolutely adored this one when I was in Grades 7-8 and re-read it far too many times to count.
|I took the picture from the side so you can see just how well-loved my copy is. Yeah, I'm almost positive I got this book as a brand-new paperback...and now look at it!|
|I'm kind of speechless about this cover.|
|Okay, from what I can tell he has a heart for an eye, his eyebrow is leaping off his face, and someone is trying to climb up his head. I feel for the poor guy.|
And then an author came along in the late '90s who solidified the standing of YA fantasy for what I'm betting will be time immemorial. She wrote a little book you guys may have heard of...Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone ring any bells?
|This is my copy (no "Sorcerer's Stone" nonsense here in Canada), and I believe it's a 1st edition paperback! I got it years ago at a used bookstore.|
Interestingly, unlike fantasy, the sci-fi genre seemed to experience a bit of a dearth in the '90s. William Sleator put out a few more, including The Beasties (1997), and Neal Shusterman hopped on board with novels like The Scorpion Shards (1994), The Dark Side of Nowhere (1997), and Downsiders (1999). For the younger set, Bruce Coville penned several humorous alien books, including Aliens Ate My Homework (1993) and I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X (1994). Still, unless I'm missing something major (I'm not a big sci-fi fan), it looks like the '90s selection of traditional sci-fi fare was pretty skimpy!
In terms of dystopian, though, there were the first tendrils of the beginning for what is currently an extremely hot genre in YA. One of the most famous dystopian YA novels — and in my opinion still one of the best — is Lois Lowry's The Giver (1993; 1994 Newbery Medal). It's such a perfect blend of worldbuilding, characters, and emotion. Following in her footsteps (in a manner of speaking) was Margaret Peterson Haddix with her Shadow Children series, the first being Among the Hidden (1998).
I think the 1990s were also the beginning of the now-rampant paranormal sub-genre of YA. Long before Stephenie Meyer came along, vampires were being written for teens by L.J. Smith. Her Vampire Diaries series kicked off with The Awakening in 1991. And amazingly ridiculous covers they were being given too:
|"No, I don't want to suck your blood. I just want a lock of your hair, as a keepsake."|
|"Don't worry, it's only static electricity. You know, the ol' rub-a-balloon-on-your-head trick."|
R.L. Stine still dominated the horror side of things, with the start of his incredibly popular Goosebumps series (Welcome to Dead House, 1992).
|Yes, let's. You first.|
As I looked through my bookshelves for titles to include in this post, I was surprised to discover how many of my historical novels were from the '90s. Fantasy may have been booming, but historical fiction was certainly going strong as well. Of course, Ann Rinaldi springs to mind when you think about YA historical books, and she was churning them out like crazy in this decade (Wolf by the Ears, 1991; A Break with Charity: A Story of the Salem Witch Trials, 1992; In My Father's House, 1993; The Fifth of March: A Story of the Boston Massacre, 1993; Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, 1996; An Acquaintance with Darkness, 1997; The Second Bend in the River, 1997, among others).
But I found a real mixture of historical settings in the ones I pulled off my shelves. Here's a sampling:
|Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji Li Jiang (1997; 1998 paperback), a young girl's experience of the Cultural Revolution in China.|
|Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett (1999), the story of a young princess of the Byzantine Empire. Love the artistic cover of this one (2000 paperback).|
|The Hollow Tree by Janet Lunn (1997), set during the American Revolutionary War.|
|Den of the White Fox by Lensey Namioka (1997) - a mystery in 16th-century feudal Japan.|
|My Anastasia by Sharon Stewart (1999) — clearly ahead of the Anastasia trend currently ruling YA historical fiction.|
|The Brideship by Joan Weir (1998) - two orphaned English girls travel to Canada, not knowing they are meant as brides for gold rush prospectors.|
|Both Sides of Time by Caroline B. Cooney (1995; 1997 paperback) — not strictly historical fiction, but it's a time travel book so a lot of it is set in 1895.|
A lot of the aforementioned books appeal mostly to girls (though Harry Potter is a fabulous example of one that both genders love), but there were some novels that had "book targeting teen guy" written all over them. Adventure novels like Gary Paulsen's The River (1991) and Brian's Winter (1998), and Will Hobbs' Downriver (1991), Far North (1996), and River Thunder (1997), for instance. Baseball seemed to be a hot topic, with books such as Honus & Me (1997) and Janus & Me (1999) by Dan Gutman (featuring magic time-traveling baseball cards, apparently), The Koufax Dilemma by Steven Schnur (1997), and Painting the Black by Carl Deuker. Soccer fans could enjoy Edward Bloor's Tangerine (1997), football enthusiasts Thomas Cochran's Roughnecks (1997) and Thomas Dygard's Second Stringer (1998), and basketball aficionados were offered Slam! by Walter Dean Myers (1996; 1997 Coretta Scott King Award) and Danger Zone by David Klass (1996).
|I really wouldn't try to swing three bats at once if I were you.|
The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake (1998; 1999 John Steptoe Award for New Talent), and Lives of Our Own by Lorri Hewett (1998). During this decade a couple of novels featuring interracial relationships were published: Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper (1999; which features a relationship between an African-American girl and a Hispanic boy), and If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson (1998; involving a relationship between an African-American boy and a white Jewish girl).
|Judging purely by this cover I would have no idea what this book was about, not even the fact that it's YA.|
Books focusing on PoC characters other than African-Americans, however, were even more difficult to find. Will Hobbs' Far North features a character from the Dene First Nations people; Lynda Durrant's Echohawk (1996) is the story of a white boy growing up in a Mohican tribe. Laurence Yep continued to write books with Asian protagonists, such as Dragon Cauldron (1991) and Dragon War (1992; the 3rd and 4th books in his Chinese mythology-inspired fantasy series), Later, Gator (1995; humorous contemporary), and The Case of the Goblin Pearls (1997), The Case of the Lion Dance (1998), and The Case of the Firecrackers (1999; this is his Chinatown Mystery series). Nancy Farmer really got creative with The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (1994; 1995 Newbery Honor), a story of three children in futuristic Zimbabwe. Still, all in all there wasn't exactly a fabulous selection to choose from.
|Somehow I don't think these are the three children, what with the beards and all. At least I hope not.|
I know there are plenty more '90s books but this post will be absolutely gigantic if I go on any longer! Which ones have you read? Which ones did I miss? Anything surprise you in this post?