April 13, 2011

YA Through The Ages: the '70s

If the '60s are when YA really got its start, then the '70s are known as the beginning of the "golden age" of YA fiction. 

The realistic angle we saw begun in the '60s only grew in the '70s – the darker, the grittier, the edgier, the better. S.E. Hinton may have started it off, but The Outsiders was soon surpassed in terms of 'edgy' material by the likes of The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (1974) and Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (1971). The Chocolate War portrayed the consequences of a vicious high school mob mentality, and Go Ask Alice was a hard-hitting look at a teenager's addiction to drugs.

Two 1970s paperback covers of Go Ask Alice. These are radically different in the vibe they give out, the first one very clearly getting at the drug aspect, and the second being somewhat more accessible to teens, with a shadowy face that hints at a dark tone and subject matter.

The first YA book to specifically address addiction to heroin was A Hero Ain't Nothing But a Sandwich by Alice Childress (1973). And while his books may not have been quite as radical, Paul Zindel wrote several more "problem novels" during the '70s, such as I Never Loved Your Mind (1970), Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball (1976), Confessions of a Teenage Baboon (1977) and The Undertaker's Gone Bananas (1978). The original covers of these books were so weird that I have decided to include them all (admittedly, I have not read any of these, so perhaps the covers do make sense and I just don't know it):

 Two versions of the 1976 hardcover (I believe the one on the left is the US and the one on the right is the UK version). Okay, I like the flowy feel of the drawing in the 1st one, and the raccoon is cute, but that font? Oh, how it hurts my eyes. Someone didn't know how to color coordinate. And the 2nd one...I don't even know where to start. Is that supposed to be blue HAIR? Has someone stepped on his eyeballs and that's why we can't see them anymore?

I like the oval outline and at least they jazzed up the font a little...but the picture. Why are their heads disembodied? Why are there plants growing out of them? Why is the guy staring at me with that creepy expression on his face? I DON'T UNDERSTAND.
When I first saw this cover I thought the guy had a coat hanger for a head.
Awkward pose, anyone? Seriously, she must have tremendously strong leg muscles to keep holding them up like that. And they're both looking toward, I'm assuming, the undertaker who has gone bananas...so why does the guy have a relatively pleasant expression on his face, while the girl is biting her nails in terror?
Even books for girls about growing up were starting to test boundaries. Forever by Judy Blume (1975) has become a YA icon for its revolutionary frank discussion of teenage sex, and even her novel Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret (1970) was challenged for dealing with issues like menstruation and religion.

Interestingly, alongside some of the more serious books, humorous YA reads were also starting to rise in popularity. Paula Danziger published The Cat Ate My Gymsuit in 1975 and Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? in 1979. And for boys, Gordon Korman started off his wonderfully funny Macdonald Hall series with This Can't Be Happening At Macdonald Hall! (1978).

Okay, Gordon Korman's writing is hilarious, but this cover image is just sad.

Lois Lowry may be best known for her amazing dystopian YA novel The Giver, but some of her earlier books were lighter, fun reads. The first book in her Anastasia Krupnik series (don't you just love that name?), Anastasia Krupnik, was published in 1979. The series is both humorous and, apparently, "edgy," as it was #29 on the ALA list of the most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000. I've read some in the series and would never have thought of them as particularly controversial...but there you have it. Some people do.

Anastasia Krupnik, looking oh SO scandalous.
In the '60s we saw an increase in the number of YA novels featuring African-American characters. This trend continued into the '70s, with novels such as His Own Where by June Jordan (1971), The Planet of Junior Brown (1971; 1972 Newbery Honor) and M.C. Higgins the Great (1974; 1975 Newbery Medal) by Virginia Hamilton, and the well-known Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1976; 1977 Newbery Medal).

There was also a sprinkling of other YA novels featuring people of colour. Dragonwings by Laurence Yep (1975; 1976 Newbery Honor) depicted the life of a young Chinese boy after immigrating to America. Scott O'Dell's novel Sing Down the Moon (1970; 1971 Newbery Honor) told the story of a Navajo girl taken by Spanish slavers. Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey by Jamake Highwater (1977; 1978 Newbery Honor) is based on Native American legends. Paula Fox's book The Slave Dancer (1973) won the 1974 Newbery Medal for its tale, based on a historical event, of a boy forced to play music that slaves had to "dance" to on a slave ship. And Jean Craighead George's book Julie of the Wolves, an educational novel about both Arctic wolves and Inuit culture, was published in 1972 and won the 1973 Newbery Medal.

I'm sorry, but I really doubt they got many teens picking this book up with a cover like that.
Or, frankly, with this one either.
With all this 'realistic' focus on plumbing the dark depths of adolescence, it looks like fantasy was a bit overlooked in this decade. Susan Cooper did keep on with her The Dark is Rising series, with The Dark is Rising (1973; 1974 Newbery Honor), Greenwitch (1974), The Grey King (1975; 1976 Newbery Medal), and Silver on the Tree (1977). The realm of the fairies was tackled by Elizabeth Marie Pope in The Perilous Gard (1974; 1975 Newbery Honor), probably one of the first YA books to cross genres (historical and fantasy). Robin McKinley also came out with her very first novel (my favourite of hers), Beauty (1978). And of course, we can't forget the classic The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (...ironically enough, I actually never finished this one), which was published in 1979. Still, compared to the realistic fiction genre, it was pretty slim pickings in the YA fantasy section.

Finally, a 1970s cover that actually does some things right! I quite like the simplistic but elegant design of this one.
Psychological thrillers/suspense/horror novels for young adult readers also appear to have taken off in the 1970s. Lois Duncan wrote lots of these, her most famous being I Know What You Did Last Summer (1973). Richard Peck published a few as well, like The Ghost Belonged to Me (1975), Are You In The House Alone? (1976), and Ghosts I Have Been (1977). And in 1979, V.C. Andrews started her Dollanganger series with Flowers in the Attic.

Gotta love the pigtails. Also, why put the exact same image on the front and back? Unless she's checking every single window.
And lastly, a special mention to Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl (1970; 1971 Newbery Honor). This must have been one of the first YA sci-fi novels, and many of the ideas even predated Star Trek, as it turns out she wrote some of it in the 1950s. 

Of these books, I've read the most from the "edgy books about girls growing up" and "humor books" categories. I loved Paula Danziger, Judy Blume, Lois Lowry and Gordon Korman when I was younger. I haven't read any of the Zindel books mentioned, but I am tempted to because those titles are just so fantastic. And some of these – The Chocolate War, Go Ask Alice, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Slave Dancer – are such YA classics I should probably give them a shot... I don't think I'll be trying the thrillers anytime soon though!

What about you guys? Have you read all/most of these? None of these? Do you like the "realism" trend of this decade?


  1. The only book I've read the you featured here was Go Ask Alice. But I was under the impression that this was propaganda, basically, trying to deter kids from experimenting with drugs.

    Anyway, I love this feature! I'm so sad we've almost made it to the end =(

  2. I actually don't think I've read any of these!

  3. Can you ever truly finish a never-ending story? ;) I really love that book! And the movie, I bought it a couple of months ago.
    I think the cover suits Confessions of a Teenage Baboon, though I'm not really sure why, I've read it over 10 years ago and remember liking it, but not really what it's about.

  4. I'm reading Forever right now and I can see it being challenged. I read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry several times, but I can never remember what happens. I think I like the edgy and realistic stories of this era. Many of them are still relevant today. It makes me wonder what will be relevant 40 years from now.

  5. Is it bad that the only ones I've heard of out of these are the Judy Blume books? I haven't read them either! I'm with you on the cover design of the Beauty And The Beast retelling, it's the best one out of this list.

  6. I haven't read any of them. I must go out and eat some worms.

  7. @Bekka: Thanks, glad you're liking the feature! I haven't read Go Ask Alice but if I do I'll keep that perspective in mind :)

    @Meg and anachronist: Don't feel bad, there are several on this list I haven't read either!

    @Daisy: The million-dollar question... ;) Oh, I haven't seen the movie of it but perhaps that would get me more interested in giving the book another try. I should check that out at some point!

    @Najela: You're right, I think some of these books carry a lot of timeless themes that allow them to still resonate today. I don't believe I've actually read Forever, but I've heard lots about it being a frequently challenged book.

    @Stephanie: No, it isn't bad! :) But I would definitely recommend several of them - Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, Paula Danziger and Gordon Korman are all fantastic authors. In terms of fantasy I would certainly recommend The Perilous Gard and Beauty as well.

  8. I recently read Go Ask Alice, and it was VERY intense. It was hard at times to keep up with the drug lingo and wording, but this girl was sucked in very deep. So many horrific and traumatizing events occurred to the narrator, but many times she just blew them off as no big deal. This is a must-read for teens everywhere, as it really shows what drug addiction is like and the price that comes with it.

  9. You are so funny, Danya :) Your commentary had me smirking throughout the whole post.

    I think Bekka is pretty spot on. I think I heard that the author was really a social worker, guidance counselor, or something like that and she was writing a cautionary tale for the kids she worked with.

    The 1970s were a great time for YA books, but, yikes! those covers are terrible! I used to love Lois Duncan's books. You might like her book Locked in Time (from the 1980s, I think). It's not a thriller.

  10. @T.B.: Thanks for your thoughts on Go Ask Alice! It seems to be a bit of a controversial one, so now I'm interested to see what I'd make of it.

    @Small Review: Aw thanks! Glad you appreciate my sense of humor, LOL :D I know, aren't the covers just appalling? We still complain about book covers these days but they have sure come a long way! Thanks for the Lois Duncan rec, I'll have to look into that one.

  11. This is horrible. I haven't read any of them! I have had Go Ask Alice on my list for years.

  12. @Pam: Don't feel bad, there's quite a few on this list I haven't read either!

  13. Wow... some of these covers are pretty bad!

  14. I've read a ton of these!!!

    Most of Judy Blume's, bunch of Paula Danziger, tons of Gordon Korman (love his books!!), Lois Lowry, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, some Jean Craighead George, all of The Dark is Rising series but one book, Beauty, lots of Lois Duncan, Richard Peck, and I own a bunch of Paul Zindel's books that I want to read. I have Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball and I think the character has a raccoon in it, so... that would make sense. As much as owning a racoon can, I mean. :P

  15. I love 60s/70s books, but as an English reader, the author who was enormously popular in the 1970s (and who you shoud totally read) is K.M. Peyton. Her books were also published in America. The PENNINGTON series was massively popular about the rough, bad tempered, un-law abiding teenager Patrick Pennington, his amazing talent for piano, and his girlfriend (from the Maybridge series) Ruth. There are three books: PENNINGTON'S SEVENTEENTH SUMMER, IF I EVER MARRY ('The Beethoven Medal' in England)and the final book, PENNINGTON'S HEIR, which is about the thorny issue of teenage pregnancy.

    The Maybridge series, another popular one, while it started off as a pony series, ended with kidnapping and pre-marital sex in PROVE YOURSELF A HERO (with probably my fave protag, Jonathan, ever) and THE LAST DITCH.

    These were tremendously popluar in Britain, and I think in America, but well worth a mention in the post, if you want!


  16. Growing up in the 70's, I read many of these books, and yes, the covers were awful but the stories fantastic.

    There is one book I'm trying to locate, as it struck a chord with me such that I still remember how I felt after reading it some 40 years later. But I can't recall the title OR author!

    All I remember is that it was a novel within a novel. The protagonist was a girl of about 14, whose family life was troubled, and she found escape in her writing. When stuff happened at home that stressed her out, she'd go into her room, pull out her notebook, and enter another world.

    The story she was writing focused on a prince, a princess, and a castle, and it seems to me the castle figured prominently in the book. By the end of the novel, she'd grown up enough that she no longer needed what the novel she was writing gave her, and she wrote the ending.

    Sound familiar to anyone? If so, please end my crazy search. Email me. jrberry63 @ gmail . com. THANKS IN ADVANCE, this has been driving me nuts.

    1. Hello Jeanne, did you ever find out the name of this book? My mother talks about it all the time and I’ve been trying to find it too.

  17. I am currently plowing through a handful of YA novels from the 70s, and your analysis is spot-on. Also, there is no way I can equal the depth of this. I choose to make up for it with jokes. Anyway, this entry reminded me of a couple titles I read as a kid and could briefly yell about. Good stuff.

  18. You really should read the Zindel books, they are wonderful.

  19. I don't remember the title or author but I think it was young adult. It was about a young couple who got married young. The book starts out with both of them telling her parents about getting married. The girl mentioned something about her sweater. I think the couple were hippies and they were living out in the woods. I don't think she got pregnant until after the marriage. I remember she went to a class at the hospital and made a friend there. The girl had a baby boy they named feather. It is not the first part last. It was published either in the 1970s or 1980s. I think the couple in the book had problems getting along after she had the baby. If anyone can give me any help, I'd greatly appreciate it! I'm desperate to find this book

  20. This page is great for me to find right now. I'm a seventies kid, and there was a book I read, the title of which I can't remember, where a girl wakes up in a hamster maze. It's some kind of scientific experiment where she has to learn a series of gestures to get the food coming out of a machine. Other young people are added, and they are being taught to fight each other for food. And the girl refuses to play along. Does anyone remember this book?


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