May 17, 2011

YA Through The Ages: the '90s

In the previous post in this series, we saw that in the '80s YA had really defined itself as a separate reading category, illustrated by the fact that an award had been created specifically for YA fiction. It was no longer just a handful of titles stuffed into the larger category of children's literature, but a section in its own right.

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.
Lurlene McDaniel kept on with her have-a-tissue-handy novels throughout the '90s, such as the Angels trilogy (Angels Watching Over Me, 1996; Lifted Up By Angels, 1997; Until Angels Close My Eyes, 1998) which I actually remember enjoying and reading more than once, because it featured the Amish culture and I found that quite interesting. Other '90s novels in the same vein include A Time for Dancing by Davida Wills Hurwin (1995; cancer) and Hero of Lesser Causes (1992; polio) by Julie Johnston.
Lurlene McDaniel's Till Death Do Us Part. I couldn't resist posting this cover. I'm assuming they're on his deathbed (hence the white lilies) but why is she wearing that ostentatious tinsel tiara-headband? And is it just me, or does her expression look like she's about to say, "Okay, this was nice and all, but now I have to get back to the twinkly lights of the prom directly behind me"?
And then in 1999, Laurie Halse Anderson widened the boundaries with her frequently-challenged novel 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.
The author who is frequently considered the queen of contemp YA, Sarah Dessen, entered the scene here with her novels That Summer (1996), Someone Like You (1998), and Keeping the Moon (1999). Sharon Creech joined her in this genre with Walk Two Moons (1994; 1995 Newbery Medal), Absolutely Normal Chaos (1995), Chasing Redbird (1997), and Bloomability (1998).

 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).

My 1990s paperback editions of this series. The first is a library discard but the other 3 were all originally my sister's copies, and eventually she gave them to me. Searching for Dragons in particular looks like it's been through the wars (it's my favourite!) I actually really love these covers, I think they match the books in tone pretty perfectly. If you have not yet read these books, you are missing out! 
Of course, we can't forget Tamora Pierce, who was fantastically prolific in the 1990s, publishing her Immortals series (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!
There are far too many YA fantasy novels from this decade to list them all here, but some other really well-known ones are: the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, which is an interesting blend of alternate history and fantasy (The Golden Compass, 1995; The Subtle Knife, 1997; The Amber Spyglass, 1999), the first in the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix (Sabriel by Garth Nix, 1995), the first in the Queen's Thief series (The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, 1996; 1997 Newbery Honor) and more of Diane Duane's Young Wizards series (High Wizardry, 1990; A Wizard Abroad, 1993). 

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!
Ella Enchanted is my favourite retelling of Cinderella, although I have read Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix (1999) a few times. Donna Jo Napoli was also responsible for some fairy tale retellings in this decade, including The Magic Circle (1993; Hansel and Gretel), Zel (1996, Rapunzel),  Crazy Jack (1999; Jack and the Beanstalk), and with co-author Richard Tchen, Spinners (1999; Rumpelstiltskin).
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.
Myth and legend made a showing as well. Donna Jo Napoli incorporated Greek mythology into her novel Sirena (1998), and T.A. Barron began his Lost Years of Merlin series (The Lost Years of Merlin, 1996; The Seven Songs of Merlin, 1997; The Fires of Merlin, 1998). A more comedic look at mythology took place with Pamela F. Service's Weirdos of the Universe Unite! (1992).

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.
Okay, admittedly Harry Potter isn't just YA. Frankly, it kind of defies pigeon-holing of any kind. But as we all know teens were sure reading the series like mad, and it paved the way for countless more children's and YA authors.

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."
There are so many things wrong with this cover I don't know where to start. Why are there disembodied hands fondling her clavicle? Why does she not look remotely *concerned* about this fact? And is that one man with a split head hovering in the background, or two men with only half a head each?
"Don't worry, it's only static electricity. You know, the ol' rub-a-balloon-on-your-head trick."
The furry variety of paranormal creature was available in this decade, too, in the form of Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (1997). And then, of course, for those readers who don't enjoy the idea of getting bitten, there were books featuring that more traditional entity (or non-entity, as the case may be): ghosts. Margaret Buffie wrote a few books featuring these, including the 1995 novels The Dark Garden and Someone Else's Ghost. And Joan Lowery Nixon came out with Whispers from the Dead (1991) and The Haunting (1998), ghostly suspense/thriller novels.

R.L. Stine still dominated the horror side of things, with the start of his incredibly popular Goosebumps series (Welcome to Dead House, 1992).

I'm not sure if the worst thing about this cover is the mottled black-and-red fur sprouting from his hands and face, or the hideously uncool colour-clashing sweater the kid is decked out in. No, wait, I've got it. It's the tagline reading, "It just keeps growing...and growing...and growing..."

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.
And those are just some from my own collection! I have to say, I'm pretty impressed by the quantity and variety of YA historical books from the '90s.

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.
Aside from the historical books, variety in POC novels was still lacking. There weren't a lot, but there were some novels featuring African-American individuals. Jackie & Me and Danger Zone both fall into this category. Walter Dean Myers published a few more books focusing on African-American characters as well, including Slam!, Somewhere in the Darkness (1992; 1993 Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor), and Monster (1999; 2000 Coretta Scott King Honor and 2000 Printz Award).

The Michael L. Printz Award was created to recognize "literary excellence in young adult literature" and was first given in 2000 to Monster. Unlike the Margaret A. Edwards Award, given to an author for their contribution with a body of work, the Printz is awarded for a specific title.
For girls, there were books like 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.
LGBT books were also still pretty few and far between at this point, although Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger (2000 Printz Honor) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky were both published in 1999.

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?


  1. I think Speak's cover would make a little more sense once you read the novel. It actually has a lot to do with the actual story, unlike most of the pretty dress covers on today's novels.

  2. SPEAK was the novel that made me think: now THIS is exactly what I want to write! Thank you, LHA. :)

  3. I enjoyed reading your newest post on YA through the ages. I've seen a couple I'm going to look up.

  4. I have that cover of Both Sides of Time! I have read The Ear The Eye and The Arm, I have no idea what happened in it as it was so bizarre to e at the time. I think I still have it though!

  5. Go. Read Speak now. I'll wait.... Great post as always--this is one of my all-time favorite blog series.

  6. I remember Goosebumps. I had so many of the books and watched the TV show too. For the Speak cover, once you read the book then you will understand the meaning of the cover.

  7. I've read Maniac Magee, The Face on the Milk Carton series (actually, a lot of her books), lots of Lurlene McDaniel, not Speak but I own it, almost all of Sharon Creech's books, the Immortals and Protector of the Small series, His Dark Materials, Diane Duane's books, Ella Enchanted, Spinners, Harry Potter (duh, lol. Philosopher's Stone!!), um, I think the Beasties... I've read a bunch of William Sleator though.

    Scorpian Shards and the sequel, a bunch of Bruce Coville's books, The Giver, Among the Hidden. I read the Vampire Diaries books long before the show, Blood and Chocolate. I actually own the Dark Garden and need to read it XD Read a bunch of Joan Lowery Nixon. Tons and tons of R. L. Stine. I've read Janet Lunn's the Root Cellar but not that one. Both Sides of Time!! I really liked that series.

    It's weird. I've read more 80s books than 90s books and I was born in 92. :P

  8. @Jenni Elyse: Good to know — yeah, I thought there was probably some symbolism there that would be explained in the book!

    @Jeannine Garsee: Wow, that's quite an endorsement! I'm not surprised, though, since from what I've heard Speak is an amazingly powerful read.

    @Sharon: Glad you enjoyed!

    @ComaCalm: I quite like that cover of Both Sides of Time, more than the newer versions of that series :)

    @Mike Mullin: Aw, thanks so much! I'm flattered :) And the Speak recommendation seems to be unanimous here!

    @Jenny N.: I don't think I actually ever read any Goosebumps...I was always a bit too much of a chicken for horror books, LOL! I know they were super popular back in the day, though.

    @Laina: Wow, you've read a *lot* of these, from all different genres! Impressive :D

  9. Speak is really good, and the cover makes a lot more sense once you read the book. It was definitely intense at times, but overall it was spectacular. Go Harry Potter! Woot, woot :)

  10. Oh my gosh! I read Both Sides of Time... FOREVER ago of course! *memories*

  11. Despite growing up in the 90's I didn't really read a lot of these books. I didn't even know the Vampire Diaries was written way back then, I thought it was more recent within the last five years or so. lol. I was pretty much a baby when most of these came out but I do fondly remember reading Harry Potter and just thinking "I like this book", but a few months later it exploded into popularity. I believe I have the first edition hardcover for the US because I got it for my birthday or christmas or something. I don't even remember half the stuff I read as a kid. I do remember Ella Enchanted and I was supposed to read the giver, but the old guy on the cover made me think it was going to be a boring book.

  12. I've really enjoyed this series of posts, especially since I grew up in the 90s. I always read Lurlene McDaniel books as a teenager and since they often seemed to be about teenagers with terminal illnesses my brother referred to them as the "teenage morbid death books." At the time, I was offended by his label, but now it makes me laugh, because to an extent, it's true.

    I remember those covers of the Sarah Dessen books! I feel like those covers versus the new covers for her novels really go to show how far graphic design has come over the past two decades.

  13. So many great books listed! I know I've said it before, but I seriously love these posts! They are brilliant!

  14. @T.B.: Yeah, I'm a bit intimidated by how intense Speak must be, although I keep hearing such good things I must pick it up!

    @Bookish Brunette: Glad I sparked a memory there! Caroline B. Cooney's The Face on the Milk Carton remains my favourite of hers, but the time travel series was really quite different from a lot of her other novels.

    @Najela: First edition hardcover? Nice! Yeah, from what I remember the Harry Potter books didn't really surge massively in popularity until a few books into the series. I know, The Giver cover probably isn't the most appealing to YA readers — which is a shame because the book is so amazing!

    @Liz: Thanks! So glad to hear you've enjoyed them. LOL, I know what you mean about the Lurlene McDaniel books — since the characters kept on dying, I have to say that they were pretty morbid!

    @Ashley: Aw, thanks very much! I'm always glad to hear it, LOL :D

  15. Most of these titles really brought back memories! I love Lurlene McDaniel and still read her sometimes. Her first book I read was Don't Die My Love. That book brought me to extreme tears. Great selection!! I still love reading books from the 90s. I'm currently reading the Roswell High Series.

    <3 Happy Reading
    Patricia @ Patricia's Particularity

  16. Ah memories. This post is like a trip back to my tween/teenage years. I read so many of these. I loved that guy in The Wind Blows Backwards. :P My Vampire Diaries covers were different, but I think they were probably just as bad.

  17. Some of the fashions from the contemporary 90s books are hilarious... until I remember that I was wearing those things too!

  18. Seeing all these books brought me back! His Dark Materials and Harry Potter and Ella Enchanted. Some of the covers are horrible though lol!

    Those Alice covers remind me of The Babysitter's Club books I read. Makes me wonder if people really dressed like that, all high waisted pants and baggy shirts tucked in *shudder*

    Here's a question: have you heard of the Thoroughbred series? It was about a girl as she raced horses. It sounds kinda boring but I loved it. Apparently it spanned 72 books!!

  19. @Patricia: Yep, Lurlene McDaniel books were almost guaranteed to be tearjerkers! I never read the Roswell High books but I did enjoy several of the TV episodes :D

    @Small Review: LOL, oh Spencer...very broody :D Haha, tough to imagine how the covers for the Vampire Diaries could get any worse!

    @Meg: LOL, well it's always trendy at the time :D

    @Laura: I don't think I've read the Thoroughbred series, but wow, 72 books all about horses? O_O That's dedication.

  20. Seeing these old covers makes me laugh and cringe at the same time! I've only read one novel by Lurlene McDaniel so far (Heart to Heart) but I think I cried for a very good portion of it... it was so incredibly sad!

    And who would have known just how big Harry Potter would get when it was first released? I only read Speak last year, but it was a novel I should have read sooner...

    I've really enjoyed your series of posts of YA through the ages! :)

  21. @Midnight Bloom: Thanks! Yeah Lurlene McDaniel books have a tendency to do that :D


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