YA Book Reviews by Amy
YA Book Reviews by Amy: Classic YA Novels (Written Before 2000)
It is surprising to learn that Young Adult literature did not really exist as a genre before the 1950’s and did not become the popular genre it is today until the 2000’s. Many books prior to the 1950’s may have had teen characters, but teens were not the intended audience; books were created for either children or adults, but with the popularity of the Little House series and the mystery sleuths: The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, it became clear that there was a market for teen main characters and for these books to be written specifically for teens. The term Young Adult was popularized in the 1960’s and the YA genre was defined as books written for the ages of 12-18 and mainly focused on self-discovery, problems that teens must handle, and the process and pain of growing up.
I wanted to share some older YA titles that have been around for years: some considered classics and some books that revolutionized the YA genre.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Holden leaves his prep school with the news that he has been expelled, a secret that he keeps from his family and travels to New York City to waste time until his family expects him to be home. During these three days, Holden will expertly lie to a classmate’s parent, go to clubs, meet old acquittances and new, and he will constantly wonder and ask: where the ducks go in the winter?
This was a book that I read in high school and found it quite strange, but enjoyable; Holden is a character that feels hidden: that the readers see his dialogue and the way the world perceives him, and we see his own thoughts about the world around him. These two things do not match, and I find that compelling. Holden is sixteen and explores his identity which feels like one of the first YA novels. JD Salinger wrote this book in 1951.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The original, and many suggest, the first YA title. Ponyboy is a Greaser and an orphan; he is raised by his older brothers Darry and Sodapop. When he is jumped by the richer and more privileged Socs (socials), Ponyboy knows that he must stay out of trouble. One night after a fight with his brothers, Ponyboy and Johnny, a fellow Greaser and friend, find themselves in a situation with deadly consequences.
This 1967 novel is my favorite book that I have ever read in class. I was a freshman when I had to read The Outsiders; I fell in love by the first sentence “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” To this day, I have Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” memorized. I love this story about brotherhood.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Jerry feels at odds with his life since the death of his mother and his father’s emotional pain. School is not better for Jerry when the annual chocolate selling fundraiser begins. The Vigils, a secret society group that bullies their classmates, decide to focus on Jerry first. Archie, the leader of the Vigils, tells Jerry not to sell any chocolate for a week. Wanting to make a difference and asks himself: “Do I dare disturb the universe?” he refuses to sell any chocolate in general, causing him to be singled out by school staff and students.
The Chocolate War excels in questioning the want of acceptance verses being an individual. Jerry is in a world that is powered by manipulation and fear that when he decides to disturb the universe, there is a cost. While written in 1974, I feel like the themes and ideas are still relatable to teens and is an early example of YA fiction.
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
Janie believes that her life, including her name, is just so plain when comparing herself to her friends and others. She is an only child, has loving parents, and is interested in the boy next door. Janie’s life will change on fateful afternoon when she notices a picture of a missing child on her friend’s milk carton. That girl on the milk carton is her. Are Janie’s parents really her parents? Was she kidnapped when she was young? Her life is not as boring as she once thought it was.
I just recently read this book alongside fellow librarian, Taylor, for Book Banter, and I really enjoyed it. Janie goes through an extreme version of finding oneself and identity that every teen goes through. While this book was originally written in 1990, it feels a little dated but ultimately still relatable.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas lives in what has been considered a utopian society in which his path is laid out in front of him without much choice. He is selected to have an important job- The Receiver of Memories. He becomes an apprentice to The Giver, a man that has held on to these memories before the sameness happened. Jonas begins to question the very society that he has believed to be good and true.
While I never read this book in school (although I would have loved to discuss this book when I was younger), I enjoyed this book as an adult. The setting and society are so creepy, and Lois Lowry does a fantastic job with her characters to show knowledge and blind faith. Written in 1993, this has been a staple in the dystopian genre.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
After the suicide of his best and only friend, Charlie begins to write letters about his freshman year experiences. He finally meets some cool upperclassmen who become his friends, has a teacher that he can confide in, and tries to heal from his past traumas.
A short read that packs a punch. Charlie is very relatable by the way he views his high school life and his surroundings. Written in 1999, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is considered a cult classic.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda has struggled to find her voice after she is blamed for calling the police during an end of the summer party, and she ruins her reputation beginning high school. She had her reasons, but it seems like no one cares about her side of the story. Follow Melinda throughout her freshman year: finding her love of art, trying to make new friends, and finding the strength to finally talk.
This book is not an easy read—there are emotions and pain, Speak tackles bullying, depression, rape, and family dysfunction, but that is what makes this book so special. This book has stayed with me throughout the years.
*check the link for available copies or to place on hold