YA Through the Decades: Finale!

Wow, 2010 flew by quickly! Did you all finish the YA Through the Decades Challenge? I had a great time discovering both established and recent classic young adult novels and reflecting on how the market for this audience has expanded by leaps and bounds over the last several decades.

First up, the prizes! For challenge finishers, I have a couple books to give away. Comment on this post with a link to your progress on the challenge, or just list the books you read over the past year. Remember, you were supposed to read at least one book aimed at teen readers from each decade (up to 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s). From those who completed the challenge, I will pick three random winners for each of the three books listed below! I’ll accept entries until Jan. 24. Open to international readers, too.

  • Forever by Judy Blume (1975)
  • A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle (1980)
  • Fifteen by Beverly Cleary (1956)

Here’s what I ended up reading for the challenge:

I hope those of you who participated enjoyed reading for the challenge. While I won’t be hosting the challenge again, I encourage everyone to continue to explore older YA titles.

YA Through the Decades: 1970s

For the YA Through the Decades challenge, I read The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier for the 1970s. I will be posting my reviews for the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s throughout December and there will be a couple giveaways in January for challenge finishers. You can always post updates as comments on these posts or send me an e-mail.

Anne from My Head is Full of Books read The Summer of My German Soldier (1973) by Bette Greene.

Lindsey from Ten Stories Up read Go Ask Alice (1971).


The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, first published in 1974, is a true YA classic. While the title sounds innocuous, it’s actually a truly dark story about power, corruption, and conformity. Set at an all-boys Catholic high school, the book revolves around a chocolate sale fundraiser and the interactions between the three main characters: Brother Leon, the teacher obsessed with raising money through the students, Archie Costello, the intimidating senior who doles out assignments for the school’s secret society, and Jerry Renault, a freshman who Archie orders to opt out of the sale. Jerry gets a lot of attention for his rebellion, but his inaction begins to upset the balance of power maintained by Archie and the secret society. It’s how these characters deal with this imbalance that reveal true human nature.

That this book has been a staple in school curricula is no surprise. It raises a lot of issues that are ripe for discussion, but it’s still edgy enough to appeal to teenagers and not be boring. It’s for that same reason, though, that it’s not necessarily a fun read. None of the characters are very likable — the reader is meant to sympathize with Jerry, but he’s pretty bland, and Archie is too evil to truly connect with. Plus, it’s pretty depressing. Yes, we’re meant to contemplate the ramifications of absolute power and rebelling against authority, but it’s definitely one for contemplation and discussion, not pure enjoyment.

Find in a library or on Amazon.

Covers Through the Decades:

YA Through the Decades: 1960s

For the YA Through the Decades challenge, I read Pigman by Paul Zindel for the 1960s. I’m slowly moving through the decades with my own challenge — next on my to-read list is The Chocolate War (1974) by Robert Cormier. I will complete the challenge by the end of December and there will be a couple giveaways in January for challenge finishers. You can always post updates as comments on these posts or send me an e-mail.

Anne from My Head is Full of Books read Camilla (1964) by Madeleine L’Engle.

Lindsey from Ten Stories Up read Where the Red Fern Grows (1961) by Wilson Rawls.

Mary from Born Reader read The Egypt Game (1967) by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.


In The Pigman (1968) by Paul Zindel, high school students John and Lorraine recount their intense, but brief, relationship with Angelo Pignati, a lonely old man who they dub the “pigman.” Both John and Lorraine come from dysfunctional families and are outsiders at school. One afternoon, while making prank phone calls, they dial up Mr. Pignati and get him to donate money to their made-up charity. When they go to pick up the cash, they fall into a bizarre friendship with the man, which involves trips to the zoo, evenings spent lounging around his house, and a shopping spree at a department store. But they don’t fully grasp the mental and physical frailty of Mr. Pignati and end up taking the whole situation a little too far.

This novel is markedly different from the classic YA books I’ve read up to this point. It’s written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style and uses curse words (though obscured as #$@!) and other slang. All of the characters are flawed and it’s not a sentimental look at the teenage experience. Zindel is definitely influenced by Catcher in the Rye here. I wasn’t particularly engrossed by the story and did not connect at all with the characters. I’m sure some modern readers would enjoy it, but I can’t see myself recommending this book to anyone except people interested in the evolution of YA literature.

(Bonus fun fact: some intrepid young reader penciled in all the curse words in my local library’s copy, which may have actually been from 1968)

Find in a library or on Amazon.

Covers Through the Decades:

YA Through the Decades: 1950s

For my YA Through the Decades challenge, I read Fifteen by Beverly Cleary for the 1950s. I seem to be reading contemporary realistic fiction for girls for each decade (Sue Barton, Seventeenth Summer) — I can’t decide if I want to continue that theme or not, but it is what I usually tend to read. I also hope to get a 1950s overview post up soon! So, what have you been reading for the challenge?

Check out Anne’s post on the challenge at My Head is Full of Books. She’s already finished! She read Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) by C.S. Lewis for the 1950s.

Lindsey from Ten Stories Up read A Separate Peace (1959) by John Knowles.


Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, published in 1956, tells the story of a few months in the life of fifteen-year-old Jane Purdy. Jane considers herself an ordinary girl – she spends most of her free time babysitting, her parents are embarrassing, and she wants nothing more than a cute boyfriend with a car. Things start to look up when she meets Stan Crandall, the new boy in town, and he invites her to the movies. Jane really likes him, and thinks he likes her, but not everything goes as planned. He spends too much time talking to cool girl Marcy, their date to Chinatown involves eating bizarre foods, and he doesn’t invite her to the first school dance. Will things ever go Jane’s way?

Fifteen is a fun and pleasant read, but doesn’t offer much in the way of substance. Jane does learn to be herself and not worry what others think about her, but most of the book is concerned with whether or not Stan will call her after one seemingly embarrassing event or another. Still, Jane’s affability and naivete are endearing and the other characters, however briefly mentioned, are fun as well. Many of Jane’s concerns – embarrassing parents, what to wear, will he call? – still apply to today’s teens, even if they’re not worried about their mother not wearing stockings, wearing the same suit twice, and tying up the party phone line. I definitely found this more accessible than Seventeenth Summer, which has a similar storyline, but that probably has more to do with Cleary’s writing style than cultural differences due to time period. I could see tweens enjoying this, especially for those who are graduating from Cleary’s younger books.

Find in a library or on Amazon.

Covers Through the Decades:
Fifteen by Beverly ClearyFifteen by Beverly ClearyFifteen by Beverly ClearyFifteen by Beverly ClearyFifteen by Beverly Cleary

YA Through the Decades: Giveaway!

Seventeenth SummerFor the second decade of the challenge, I will be giving away a brand new copy of the 2010 Simon Pulse edition of Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly. This new edition of the classic YA book will be released on April 27.

1. To enter, post a link to any reviews you’ve done for the challenge (any decade!) to the comments on this post or send me an e-mail.
2. Any reviews posted between February 8 and April 23 count.
3. One entry per person, regardless of the number of reviews.
4. Deadline for entries is April 23 at 11:59 p.m. PST.

It’s never too late to join the challenge and enter the contest!

YA Through the Decades: 1940s

Welcome to the latest edition of the YA through the Decades Challenge! This month I’ll be taking a look at literature for young people from the 1940s.

Of course breaking time into decades is an arbitrary unit of time, so like the 1930s before it, the 1940s continue to see the popularity of the teen series. Author Helen Wells capitalized on the success of Sue Barton with her series about student nurse Cherry Ames and the Stratemeyer syndicate continued to publish new books in the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and other series.

In 1942, Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer (see my review) seemingly changed young adult literature. Written when Daly was just out of her teen years, the story of 17-year-old Angie Morrow explored first love and everyday teen life in the Midwest. This was one of the first books to use first person narration, a technique that has continued to characterize books for teens. Many imitators followed including Betty Cavanna with Going on Sixteen in 1946 who went on to produce many popular teen romances in the ’40s and ’50s, and Rosamund du Jardin with Practically Seventeen.

While romance novels were popular among girls, many boys flocked to popular sports novels. One of the more prolific writers in the genre was John R. Tunis. His The Kid From Tomkinsville (1940) about a young baseball player sparked many sequels, and his All American (1942) explored racial prejudices in sports.

Not all teens were reading books, however. Magazines continued to be popular. Seventeen magazine debuted in 1944 and has remained a mainstay for young girls. Comic books were also enjoying huge popularity. Superman came on the scene in 1938 and Batman appeared in 1940 and were joined by a host of other popular series, many that have continued until the present day.

Other Notable Teen Books from the 1940s

Animal Stories
National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (1949)
Black Stallion by Walter Farley (1941)
My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara (1941)

Historical Fiction
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1943)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

Contemporary Fiction
Heaven to Betsy, Betsy in Spite of Herself, Betsy Was a Junior, and Betsy and Joe by Maud Hart Lovelace (1945-8)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)


Best Books for Young Adults by Holly Koelling and Betty Carter. American Library Association, 2007.

From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature by Michael Cart. HarperCollins, 1996.

Twentieth-Century Teen Culture by the Decades: A Reference Guide by Lucy Rollin. Greenwood Press, 1999.

Book Review: Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly

Seventeenth Summer by Maureen DalySeventeen-year-old Angie just graduated from high school and thought this summer would be no different than any other. But that was before she caught the eye of Jack Duluth, the popular basketball star with the All-American good looks. It’s not long before she’s going to country club dances, hanging out by the lake, and, just maybe, falling in love.

Written by Maureen Daly when she was a teenager herself, Seventeenth Summer is often considered the first true YA novel. It’s still in print and Simon and Schuster will be releasing a new edition this month. But, as with most books written almost 70 years ago, the story is pretty dated and it’s not just in the social norms. Unlike modern YA books, there’s very little dialogue to be found here. It’s hard to tell why Angie and Jack even like each other, considering they spend so much time not talking (and don’t think they’re filling their time ‘necking’ — Angie can barely bring herself to utter the word). Angie’s other relationships aren’t much better. The minor subplot involving Angie’s sister Lorraine and her on-again-off-again male caller has some nuance to it, but Angie and Lorraine’s interactions are more about what they can’t bring themselves to say to each other. Modern readers may be frustrated by the lack of action, but the romance, while innocent, will still capture the hearts of teen girls. The story is also a fascinating look at everyday life in the late 1930s, which could be appealing for readers with an interest in past generations.

Find in a library or on Amazon.

Covers Throughout the Years

YA Through the Decades: 1930s and Earlier

It’s time for the first post for the YA Through the Decades Challenge. First up: 1930s and earlier.

Looking at young adult literature from the early parts of the 20th century and earlier is a tenuous exercise, considering that no one published books targeted to that age group. Up until the early part of the century, teenagers didn’t even exist as a separate cultural group. Those in their teenage years often went into the workforce after some years of schooling and most married young and started families before they were 20. Just as teens transitioned from childhood straight to adulthood, so did the literature. Teens certainly found both adult and children’s material that appealed to them, though, so that’s what we’ll be talking about here. We’ll also be focusing on American books, since that’s what I know and the concept of literature published specifically for teens seems to have originated in the US.

Books featuring teens with teen appeal began to appear after the Civil War. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a book that has continued to enthrall young readers, was one of the first in 1868. Other popular books for girls in this time period were of the domestic romance type, like St. Elmo by Augusta Jane Evans. Boys tended to enjoy dime novels featuring Westerns, mysteries, and detective stories. Other influential books from this earlier era include Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which has endured as a literary classic, and Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick, which was widely read, but dismissed at the time as mindless fluff.

Some of the earlier dime novels and boys’ series paved the way for the wildly successful Stratemeyer syndicate. Known most now for the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, Edward Stratemeyer’s book publishing company produced dozens of series for kids and teens in the first half of the 20th century. The first series, the Rover Boys, featured three regular teen boys getting into mischief. Thirty volumes were published between 1899 and 1926. The other series were a mix of stories for girls and boys, with the earlier ones featuring mostly true-life adventures. For girls, Ruth Fielding, an ambitious young woman who joins the Red Cross and goes to college, was one of the syndicate’s most popular. Starting in the 1930s, mystery stories became de rigueur and the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were born. The early books in both series were heavily edited in the ’60s to remove many racist stereotypes.

Both teen culture and teen literature began to take shape in the 1930s. The Young People’s Reading Roundtable (YPRRT) was established as part of ALA’s Children’s Library Association in 1930 and began publishing a list of “books for young people” that eventually became today’s Best Books for Young Adults. While this list for high school students consisted solely of adult titles with teen appeal, it’s clear that librarians and others were beginning to see this age group as its own entity.

Read on for my challenge review and a giveaway of the Puffin Classics edition of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott!
Continue reading “YA Through the Decades: 1930s and Earlier”

YA through the Decades Challenge

YA through the Decades
January 1, 2010 – December 31, 2010

I only started reading YA literature a few years ago and tend to read current books. With the recent release of the Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick, which looks back at teen lit from decades past, I’ve been itching to read some older YA books. So, why not start a reading challenge?

There’s some debate about when YA lit first started. In Michael Cart’s “Naming Names” column from March 15, 2009’s Booklist, he lists The Outsiders (1967), Catcher in the Rye (1951), Seventeenth Summer (1942), Sue Barton Student Nurse (1936) and even Little Women (1868) as contenders for the first book for teen readers. For the purposes of this challenge, though, I’m defining early YA pretty broadly, in that the book should feature a teen point of view and be accessible to young people, even if it wasn’t published for teens.


1. Books should be considered YA or, for older books, should feature a teenaged main character or point of view. Let’s say from roughly ages 12-18.
2. Read at least one book from each decade: 1930s or earlier; 1940s; 1950s; 1960s; 1970s; 1980s; 1990s; 2000s. Re-reads are fine. Check the main challenge page for book ideas for each time period.
3. Sign up either by commenting or signing the Linky at the bottom of the page. You can use the graphic on your blog to promote the challenge if you wish. You can start this challenge at any time during the year.


Post your reading list on your blog!

When you read a book for the challenge, post a review to your blog and comment on the main challenge page, send me a link, or comment on the periodic challenge posts. I will have prizes periodically for a random review!

That’s it! I will be reading my books in chronological order, starting with the oldest. As the host, I will post a mini-overview of the YA literature of the decade along with thoughts on my chosen book. The eight time periods will be spread out over the course of the year. Winners will be chosen for each of these posts.

Here’s a small button you can add to your blog:

Please sign the Linky with your name and blog name. If you are not a blogger, use your name only.