I couldn’t resist picking up Paperback Crush, a colourful, sometimes snarky look at the Young Adult fiction published in the 1980s and 90s. Author Gabrielle Moss say that the book is “here to honor the young adult lit published after Judy Blume but before J.K. Rowling.” Those decades produced more YA than the previous decades, but the quality, I suspect, wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from modern YA. And I read a lot of YA.
It’s a hotly debated subject (okay, maybe not hotly): what’s the first YA book?
…experts don’t agree on exactly when [YA] dawned. Books from the original 1930s Nancy Drew stories to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1932 book Little House in the Big Woods to the 1936 novel Sue Barton, Student Nurse by Helen Dore Boylston have all been held up as the first-ever YA novel
I like to think that S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is the first true example of YA, a story written expressly for young people, but according to Young Adult Library Services Association president Michael Cart YA “all started with Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer.” I actually have vague memories of reading that book, but my memories of reading The Outsiders and Hinton’s follow-up That Was Then, This is Now are seared into my adolescent memory.
Moss tracks the trends in YA, everything from first love and love-gone-wrong to sick lit and paranormal romance. She examines teenage jobs (babysitters and camp counselors); friendships (bffs and frenemies); family (siblings and cousins and evil step-parents). She looks at specific books and authors, flagging the more famous titles with passive-aggressive admiration (Wakefield twins!)
I wasn’t reading a lot of YA lit in the 80s and 90s, but I am a reader, so I was at least familiar with 80% of the literature Moss mentioned. I mean, you would have had to be living on another planet not to know Sweet Valley High or The Baby-Sitters Club [sic]. I enjoyed reading about these books, and often found Moss’s commentary laugh-out-loud funny.
Literature from this time period was not without its issues. As Moss points out “a lot of these books centered on the stories of white rich thin heterosexual women with naturally straight hair.” But no matter. For better or worse “They validated girls’ stories by putting them to paper….”
I came of age in the 1970s, but as a teacher I enjoyed Paperback Crush. It is pure nostalgia. Although I am just a bit older than the book’s target demographic, I too remember the joys of the Scholastic flyer, and the thrill of choosing my own books to read. Many of the titles mentioned caused a flood of memories. If books were a part of your life, this one will give you all the feels.