April 23, 2011

YA Through The Ages: the '80s

We saw last week that YA fiction really began to take off in the 1970s...but if you thought that was impressive, then the '80s will really wow you. The "golden age" of YA fiction continued into this decade and YA literature seemed to explode in just about every direction. This is also when we start getting into lots of books that I grew up reading when I was younger, so I have a soft spot for many of these!

The trend of realistic novels looking at some of the darker/grittier issues teens face continued, with novels such as the Tillerman Cycle by Cynthia Voigt (Homecoming, 1981; Dicey's Song, 1982, won 1983 Newbery Medal; A Solitary Blue, 1983; The Runner, 1985; Come A Stranger, 1986; Sons from Afar, 1987; Seventeen Against the Dealer, 1989), Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved (1980; 1981 Newbery Medal), and Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind (1982), which was one of the first LGBT YA books published and still one of the most well-known today.

 I'm sensing a bit of a theme here...the 'forlorn teen posture' must have been popular in cover design back then.

A sub-category here would be the 'sad, depressing, character-is-going-to-die' novels. Namely, Lurlene McDaniel books. I will admit that I went through a Lurlene McDaniel phase when I was younger, but thankfully that was fairly short-lived (LOL, pun not intended). Some of her novels from the '80s include Six Months to Live (1985), I Want to Live (1987), Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever (1989), and Too Young to Die (1989). These covers are too fantastic to pass up:

 Oh, the old-school hospital beds...and the headband. And the teddy bear, which is clearly an extremely critical addition to the storyline.

The lighter realistic stories kept on going strong as well. Paula Danziger published a bunch more novels in that vein (with some pretty fantastic titles): There's a Bat in Bunk Five (1980), The Divorce Express (1982), It's An Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World (1985), This Place Has No Atmosphere (1986), Remember Me to Harold Square (1987), and Everyone Else's Parents Said Yes (1989).

 The covers were pretty much gigantic fails, though. Seriously, these look like those books you are assigned to read in elementary school to learn a moral from. Which is SO not what they are really like.

Lois Lowry wrote some more in her Anastasia Krupnik series, including Anastasia Again! (1981), Anastasia at Your Service (1982), Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst (1984 – love the title of this one!), Anastasia Has the Answers (1986) and Anastasia's Chosen Career (1987). And one of my favourites, the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, got started in this time period. It's a fabulous blend of humor and heartfelt emotion, and tackles problems that all teens encounter. The first was The Agony of Alice in 1985, followed by Alice in Rapture, Sort Of in 1989.

This is the 1988 paperback edition...and it's actually my copy! Yep, now that we're into the '80s I can actually start pulling books off my shelves for some of these pictures.
Then of course, there was also the ultra-frothy (and ultra-popular) Sweet Valley High series by Francine Pascal. I never read these so I'm not altogether sure what the draw was, but the early covers are priceless. I could do an entire blog post just about them.

"I am so winning this staring contest..."

And 27 books later, they STILL haven't given up...
"You look a little out of control. Let me just take your pulse for a minute..."

Yep, that is so totally the face I make when someone kidnaps me. Or taps my shoulder. Whatever.

"Ugh! Get that germy handkerchief away from me!"
YA fantasy really started getting creative in the 1980s. Up until then it had mostly been the epic, traditional fantasy that frequently involved such staples as a quest, a battle against the dark power, and a determined young protagonist (often male) to carry it off, with the help of companions. But in the 1980s the authors started testing the waters a little bit more and pushing the boundaries on what could be considered fantasy.

Topping this trend was Tamora Pierce, of course, whose Song of the Lioness series (Alanna: The First Adventure, 1983; In the Hand of the Goddess, 1984; The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, 1986; Lioness Rampant, 1988) should be on every teen's must-read list in my opinion. This was THE series that got me hooked on YA fantasy (before then I was a pretty die-hard realistic-fiction-only kind of reader), with such engaging kick-butt female characters and action-packed plots.

 These covers are actually a lot better than I thought they would be. Although...why is she wearing what looks like a mini-skirt in the first cover?? That can't be very practical...

 And I didn't picture the Dominion Jewel as being so huge. It looks like it's about to crush Alanna. *blinks*

And this is my copy of the first book, a 1989 paperback edition. It was actually my sister's originally, but I read it so often (as you can tell by the well-worn cover) that she eventually just gave it to me.

Equally famous is Diana Wynne Jones, who published her extremely successful Howl's Moving Castle in 1986, which branched out from typical fantasy in being humorous, quirky, and altogether unique.

Okay, I adore Howl's Moving Castle, but this cover frightens me. There is a lot going on here: Howl in the foreground, then Calcifer the fire demon (who by the way, is not evil like he is shown here), then a castle outline super-imposed in the backdrop, and a tiny scarecrow shadow in the bottom right-hand corner. It's kind of like a monumentally disastrous collage.
Diane Duane started in on her Young Wizards series (So You Want to be a Wizard, 1983; Deep Wizardry, 1985), which blends fantasy with science fiction in a modern-day setting.

These covers aren't too bad, actually – I especially like the second one where they're riding on the dolphin fins (these are actually sharks below the surface – straight from the author herself!) and she's almost falling off.

We can't forget a couple other very well-known names in the YA fantasy department: Robin McKinley and Madeleine L'Engle. Robin McKinley's novel The Blue Sword (1982) was a 1983 Newbery Honor book, and The Hero and the Crown (1984) won the 1985 Newbery Medal. Meanwhile, Madeleine L'Engle was continuing her series about the Murrys and O'Keefes with Many Waters (1986), A House Like a Lotus (1984), and An Acceptable Time (1989). L'Engle also wrote the third book in her Austins series, and arguably the best-known: A Ring of Endless Light (1980; 1981 Newbery Honor). I read this one multiple times when I was younger and really loved it (of course, I adore dolphins, so that could be part of the explanation there.) Actually, I've also featured it as a Forget-Me-Nots pick before.

Yep, this is our well-worn copy of it. Maybe it's just for nostalgic reasons but I still quite like this cover...the water looks so inviting!
Jane Yolen got in on things too, with the first three books in her Pit Dragon Chronicles (Dragon's Blood, 1982; Heart's Blood, 1984; A Sending of Dragons, 1989).

The 1984 paperback version we have. Gotta say, it looks a little bit like he's dancing a waltz with the dragon.

And these are the first edition hardcovers! I got these as discards from the library.
And then at the end of the decade, Francesca Lia Block came along with her novel Weetzie Bat (1989), which apparently is a "dream-like" novel about genies and wishes, that also touches on tough issues like AIDS and homosexuality.

I haven't read it myself, but the cover is definitely giving out a surreal vibe.

In this decade, it looks like science fiction became a genre in and of itself within YA. Orson Scott Card is famous for his novel Ender's Game (1985), which was originally intended for an adult audience but was later listed on the ALA's "100 Best Books for Teens." Both William Sleator and Christopher Pike also penned novels with the sci-fi essentials of spaceships and aliens: Sleator with Interstellar Pig (1984), and Pike with The Tachyon Web (1986). And Monica Hughes wrote her Isis series: The Keeper of the Isis Light (1980), The Guardian of Isis (1981), and The Isis Pedlar (1982).

 Looks like she was taking a leaf out of Alanna's book with that barely-there mini-skirt. And the second cover shows...Aragorn, Gandalf and C-3PO?

YA historical fiction was holding its own as well. Ann Rinaldi came on the scene with Time Enough for Drums (1986) and The Last Silk Dress (1988). Lois Lowry published Number the Stars in 1989, which went on to win the 1990 Newbery Medal. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History (1986) by Art Spiegelman took a completely different tack to WWII using a graphic novel format and animals as the main characters.
Love the original cover of this one. Very striking and eye-catching.
Philip Pullman, who later became famous for the His Dark Materials fantasy series, published the first two books in his historical mystery Sally Lockhart series, The Ruby in the Smoke in 1985 and The Shadow in the North (originally The Shadow in the Plate) in 1986.

Well, it's pretty basic, but I do like the rich colour of the crimson gem.
I believe this one is supposed to depict some wolf-like creature feeding on a body. Yes, I can see that. Kind of. If I squint.
And then there were Eva Ibbotson's historical romance novels, which I believe were originally intended for adults but have since been reprinted as YA. These included A Countess Below Stairs (1981; now titled The Secret Countess), Magic Flutes (1982; now titled The Reluctant Heiress), A Company of Swans (1985), and Madensky Square (1988).

I actually would have thought both of these were fantasy novels, just based on the cover. Especially with a title like Magic Flutes. But no.

In the horror arena, R.L. Stine was making his name known. His Goosebumps series came later, but even in this decade he was doing well with titles such as Blind Date (1986), Twisted (1987), The Babysitter (1989), and Hit and Run (1989).

Oh, how I love these early horror book covers. The girl looks a) like she is freezing cold, despite the large baggy sweater she's got on, and b) positively creepy. I would be more disturbed about hiring her to watch my kids than anything lurking around in the bushes. Although you've gotta love that tagline: "Every step she takes, he'll be watching." Dun-dun-DUNNNNN...

Lois Duncan continued publishing YA suspense novels, such as The Third Eye (1984), The Twisted Window (1987) and Don't Look Behind You (1989). Christopher Pike was becoming a big name in the thriller section as well. He published a whole slew of these novels in the 1980s, such as Weekend (1986), Spellbound (1988), Gimme a Kiss (1988), Scavenger Hunt (1989), and Last Act (1989).

 Well, their cover design may have been deplorable (oh, that cheesy font!) but you can't say it wasn't consistent. I love the tagline for Spellbound, too: "You can close your eyes...it won't help." *tries to cue spooky music but dies laughing instead*

"Gimme a Kiss" as a title for a thriller? Seriously?

Finally, there seemed to be a bit of a push for books specifically targeting teen guys. The survival stories Hatchet (1987; 1988 Newbery Honor) and Dogsong (1985; 1986 Newbery Honor) by Gary Paulsen would fit here, as well as sports books like Chris Crutcher's Running Loose (1983; football), Stotan! (1986; swimming), and The Crazy Horse Electric Game (1987; baseball). Basketball fans, never fear, your sport gets covered by Walter Dean Myers in his novel Hoops (1981) and its sequel The Outside Shot (1984), and Bruce Brooks in The Moves Make the Man (1984; 1985 Newbery Honor).

With a wolf perching on his forehead and a hatchet buried in his skull, it's all he can do to carry on.
I know this is a long post already (congrats if you've made it this far!) but two things in particular strike me about YA in the 1980s. The first is that authors seemed to have become more versatile, switching genres very successfully. Lois Lowry, for instance, did both light realistic fiction (the Anastasia series) as well as heavy historical fiction (Number the Stars). In addition to Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson wrote a historical novel set in China in the 1850s, called Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom (1983). Christopher Pike, as we have seen, stepped outside of thriller territory to try his hand at a science fiction novel with his book The Tachyon Web.

The second is that there was still only a smattering of novels with POC characters, perhaps even fewer than in the 1970s. Walter Dean Myers wrote several featuring African-American characters from Harlem, such as Hoops and The Outside Shot as well as Won't Know Till I Get There (1982), Fallen Angels (1988) and Motown and Didi: A Love Story (1984). He also wrote fantasy novels with black characters, such as The Golden Serpent (1980) and The Legend of Tarik (1981). Other voices to add to this category were Virginia Hamilton, whose novel Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982) was a 1983 Newbery Honor book, and Bruce Brooks with his previously mentioned The Moves Make the Man.

The poor horse must be excruciatingly hot in that outfit.
In terms of other ethnic minorities, though, there weren't a lot to choose from. Dogsong features an Inuit character. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Staples (1989; 1990 Newbery Honor) is about the life of a Pakistani girl. Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom centers around two Chinese teens. But really, the pickings were pretty slim.

YA had solidified itself as a completely independent category of fiction by the end of the 1980s. This was reflected in the creation of the Young Adults' Choices lists (1987) and the Margaret A. Edwards award (1988). Up until then there hadn't been any specific award for YA fiction, only awards for children's books (into which YA was often put) or other categories.

So...which of these books have you read? Loved, liked, or hated? Any important titles I've missed (I couldn't possibly cover them all here!)? I've read a *lot* of the fantasy novels mentioned as well as the light realistic fiction, and much less of the darker realistic, sci-fi, "boy books," POC, and horror/thriller categories. Which would you recommend I add to my tbr list?


  1. "With a wolf perching on his forehead and a hatchet buried in his skull, it's all he can do to carry on."

    Comic gold.

  2. I'm actually reading So You Want To Be A Wizard on the side right now. It's actually pretty good and it's a fun and interesting story. Haha, a lot to take in at first. It's very well-written though! Thanks for these awesome Through The Ages posts!

  3. I've read the Eva Ibbotson books and I love her writing! It's so sad she passed away last year before the release of her latest book. The new covers aimed at the YA market are much prettier and I'm glad to have the two you mentioned on my bookshelf. What did you think of them? I've also read Number The Stars and really liked it.

    I love all your captions for the Sweet Valley High covers- those photos are hilarious! I haven'r read any but I've seen them in 2nd hand bookshops.

  4. I loved the Dicey series by Cynthia Voight. I completely skipped the Sweet Valley High Series- couldn't get into it and jumped right in with the Fear Street and Christopher Pike books. I would read at least ten of those in a week. LOL, I realized later how formulaic those books were.

  5. Just a note on the "Deep Wizardry" cover: those are sharks under the surface. And if Nita looks a little unsteady on her feet, it's because she and Kit are walking on the water, which isn't as easy as it sounds when the water is choppy. :)

    Seriously, though, those covers are favorites of mine.

  6. Oh, the MEMORIES! I remember the Tillerman cycle, I've read every single one! so good, and Alanna! Probably my favourite fantasy YA, I can't believe it was published in the 80s! I never read Sweet Valley High (I'm kinda glad, haha). ANd Maus! And Hatchet! Haha, those books remind me of my childhood. I love this post, the ~nostalgia is awesome :)

  7. @Bekka: Glad you liked! :D

    @T.B.: Aw, thanks, glad you've been enjoying this series of posts! Yeah, the Young Wizards series is really creative and different from most other YA fantasy.

    @Stephanie: Actually, I'm not sure if I've read any of the Eva Ibbotson books (or if I have I don't remember them)...*winces* Sorry! I know how much you recommend them so I will have to try one. Any book in particular you'd suggest starting with?

    @Rummanah: LOL, I haven't read the Christopher Pike books but judging by the covers I can bet that they were pretty formulaic!

    @dduane: Whoops, my mistake! I've corrected it now. Thanks for visiting my blog and pointing that out!

    @Audrey: Glad this post was so nostalgic for you! LOL, I'm kind of glad I never read SVH either :D

  8. As always, an amazing post! I loved Cynthia Voigt! I recognized and have read a lot of these, and even more are on my TBR!

  9. I remember reading Hatchet and The Alice Series. I can't wait to read the 90's, that was when I was old enough to read and devoured everything I could. I love these posts, they are so great. I had no idea Howl's Moving Castle was so old.

  10. Love this - I never thought about YA when I was growing up... thought it was something newer but you are right - these are totally YA!

  11. Another interesting post in this series, I'm really enjoying this.. I'm not familiar with many of these...My neices read a lot of Sweet Valley High, R.L. Stein, and Christopher Pike books in the 80s and loved them.

  12. LOL, I had forgotten about the Lurlene McDaniel books. I also went through a phase with them but they quickly started seeming all the same.

  13. Wow you really cover it all don't you? I didn't know that the Alanna books were written in the 80s! I read those not 5 years ago for the first time and loved them. Also, I read The Keeper of the Isis Light when I was about 13 and I did love that book. I can't believe some of these that I read are so old!

  14. Man, I went through a Lurlene McDaniel phase too. I think I've read pretty much all of her books. I loved Howl's Moving Castle (I've watched the movie too), the Alice books, the Alanna books, L'Engle's books (A Wrinkle in Time was my favourite) and the two McKinley novels you mentioned.

    Unlike you, I grew up reading Sweet Valley. They just came out with a Sweet Valley book ten years later. I flipped through it just to see what happens to the characters and was like WTH? It wasn't what I was expecting at all.

  15. @Ashley: Thanks! Before I did this post I didn't realize all those Cynthia Voigt books were in the same series/saga, but apparently the same characters pop up in several of the books.

    @Najela: Glad you're enjoying this series! Yep, not only is Howl's Moving Castle from the '80s, but several other of Diana Wynne Jones' books (like some in the Chrestomanci series) are as well.

    @Sheila: Thanks! Yeah, I think lots of people think of YA as only recent books for teens, but it was indeed already getting established back in this decade.

    @Sharon: I don't believe I've read any SVH, Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine but they were certainly very popular back then!

    @Meg: LOL, yep, the Lurlene McDaniel books are quite formulaic. Once you've read one or two, you've basically read them all, more or less :D

    @marysgate: Thanks, I tried to be thorough! :D I know, I think there are a lot of books from this decade that are still being reprinted today, which explains the familiarity teens have with them despite the fact they date back to the '80s.

    @A Canadian Girl: Sounds like we like a lot of the same books! Yeah, I haven't read SVH but I did hear about the Sweet Valley Confidential book that came out recently and I think most readers had the same reaction you did.

  16. I read a lot of these when I was in my early teens! Here’s some of the ones I’ve read:
    -The Tillerman Cycle by Cynthia Voigt
    -Jacob Have I Loved
    -The Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry
    -Quite a number of Sweet Valley High books
    -The Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
    -most of the Madeleine L'Engle books
    -Ender’s Game series (not sure if you've read these but I quite liked them)
    -a lot of Philip Pullman’s books (Sally Lockhart is awesome!)

    I still need to read Howl’s Moving Castle! I haven’t read anything by Dianna Wynne Jones but I feel I would really like her books! Also need to read “The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley and more books about dragons :)

  17. Ah Sweet Valley! I actually did go through a Sweet Valley phase when I was much younger.

    Also, I'm only getting around to reading Eva Ibbotson's books... but then again, I wasn't born in the 80s. :P

  18. "I went through a Lurlene McDaniel phase when I was younger, but thankfully that was fairly short-lived (LOL, pun not intended)"

    And that's where I lost it with full out loud laughter. :P I love these posts. They're always filled with tons of information and your absolutely hilarious commentary! You = AWESOME!

    This post is like taking a walk down memory lane (and also seeing all those books I know I should have read already. Ahem, Alanna...)

  19. @Sysha: Woah, you've read a lot from this decade! Totally recommend Howl's Moving Castle, it is so much fun. And no, I haven't read Ender's Game yet but will keep your recommendation in mind :)

    @Cialina: I need to read Eva Ibbotson's novels as well, so you're not alone!

    @Small Review: LOL I'm so glad I made you laugh with this post! :D Thanks so much for always commenting with how much you like this series, it's so nice to hear! And I know I've recommended the Alanna series to you before but I will take this opportunity to do so again – Alanna rocks! Read it! :P

  20. I have A Solitary Blue on my shelf, same cover! I love Maus, I think it was pretty clever and I <3 Christopher Pike! =D

  21. *bounces* I was born in 92, but my elementary school was broke so most of our books were from the 70s/80s and I was a early reader, so I've read a TON of these!!

    I've read the entire Homecoming series (in high school, we had to read it for English and I wasn't allowed to *guess* what happened), Jacob Have I Loved, a bunch of Paula Danziger (I actually didn't know This Place Has No Atmopshere was 80s because our library had a reprint with a really cute cover).

    I went through a Lurlene McDaniel phase, too XD Sweet Valley was never my thing, though. I only read like three of those.

    I ADORE Alanna, I've read a bunch of Tamora Pierce's books, and Diane Duanne is still one of my favourite writers (I follow her on twitter now!!). Jane Yolen is a goddess. I've read tons of hers, but not that series. I'm pretty sure I've read Weetzie Bat, but I can't remember much about it.

    I've read a bunch of Monica Hughes (she's Canadian! Kinda), but not the Isis series, though I own a few. Read a lot of Eva Ibbotson, but mostly her MG. Which Witch, Island of the Aunts, her ghost ones... they're awesome. I've read most of Robin McKinley's books, the entire Austin series (love them!), too many R. L. Stine books, too many Christopher Pike books, Hatchet and the rest of the series.

    (Hatchet was another of those books we read in school that I had already read. I wasn't allowed to guess again.)

  22. Wow, I never realized how deep I was in YA as a child! I recognized almost all of these titles. I wasn't expecting that.

    Reading about a decade I have lived has a very different feel to the previous posts!

  23. @ComaCalm: I agree, I think the graphic novel (and using animals as main characters) was a very smart, creative take on WWII.

    @Laina: Wow, you certainly have read a lot of these! Yeah, I read quite a few of these '80s books as well — we went to the library very frequently when I was a kid and back then the library didn't have a lot of the newest books out. Some oldies but goodies here!

    @Emery Grey: I think that's true for quite a few people, that they didn't really see it as "YA" the same way that YA is viewed today, but nonetheless they were reading it!

  24. I can not seem to find a book I read as a young teen. Probably around 1987. It was light blue and the cover may have been a girl on a swing. Her best friend (a boy) died in a car accident a d she was coming to terms with grief a d loss.


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