A Brief History of Young Adult Books

September 29, 2022 – 10:53 am

The OutsidersWe pretty much breathe, eat, and sleep all things young adult books, but where did it come from? What’s the actual definition? Let us break down everything you need to know about how YA came about!

Once upon a time, there was only adult books, and that sucked. But then, in the 1940s and 50s, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys helped paved the way for modern YA which began to blossom in the 1960s.

We put together this quick video to highlight young adult literature throughout the decades that help explain how YA lit has evolved to the massive, pop culture phenomenon it is today.

The Beginning

Many of the books that we now consider to be young adult texts were initially written for adults and only later categorized as YA. One of the first books to be written and published for young adults was The Outsiders and it still remains the quintessential YA book today.


YA lit blossomed in the 1970s, moving away from the traditional children’s stories of previous years. In what is called the “Golden Age of young adult literature, ” authors published more realistic and controversial titles.

Go Ask AliceNovels published in this decade introduced hard-hitting topics such as death, sex, underage drinking, homelessness, and drug use.

Notable YA books of the 1970s:
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart (1970)
Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks (1971)
Heads You Win, Tails I Lose by Isabelle Holand (1973)
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (1974)
Forever by Judy Blume (1975)
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan (1975)
Gentlehands by M.E. Kerr (1978)
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews (1979)


YA lit continued to grow in the 1980s as more authors began writing for teenagers. The Sweet Valley High series became the first young adult book to reach the New York Times paperback best-seller list.

Heads You Win, Tails I LoseSome authors began experimenting with style and genre, giving variety to YA.

Notable YA books of the 1980s:
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (1983)
Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal (1983)
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (1984)
The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin (1986)
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (1986)
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block (1989)

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier1990s

The horror genre persisted in the 1990s as the Goosebumps series became immensely popular.

But the early 1990s was also a darker time for young adult literature as less young adult novels were being published. Many feared the extinction of the genre.

But, a rise in youth culture in the late 1990s helped young adult literature swing back into favor.

Notable YA books of the 1990s:
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney (1990)
The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith (1991)
Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (1992)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
Sabriel by Garth Nix (1995)
Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen (1998)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)


In the early 2000s, different book awards (Printz Award, Edwards Award, Alex Awards) were created specifically to honor YA lit. At the same time, Twilight and The Hunger Games popularized paranormal and dystopian series that reigned supreme in the mid to late 2000s.

I Know What You Did Last Summer Gentlehands by M.E. Kerr Flowers in the Attic Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

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Source: www.epicreads.com

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