YA fiction

5 YA books from the 90s that deserve a revival

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Looking at the current crop of Young Adult books, it can be tough to remember that there was ever a time before Twilight and The Hunger Games.

YA is now a juggernaut, spawning million-dollar box office openings, but let’s not forget that 20 years ago, it was a cute little side-line in publishing. And let’s not forget the authors who helped pave the way for the current success of YA. Although some 90s series, like The Vampire Diaries, have seen a renaissance, most languish in semi-obscurity.

So, if your interest in YA started with Suzanne Collins or John Green, why not check out some of my favourite 90s reads?

The Hanged Man, Violet and Claire – Francesca Lia Block

90yabooks02I couldn’t decide which of these books to include on this list, so I’m including both.

Violet and Claire is the more bombastic of the two, turning a story of fraught female friendship into a heady, noir-ish romp through the underbelly of LA. The Hanged Man is quieter, dreamier, this time transforming LA into a dark, magic-realist landscape.

What they have in common is gorgeous, evocative writing and a surprising amount of grit for YA fiction.

Junk – Melvin Burgess

90yabooks03In his unflinching portrayal of Bristol’s City Road in the 1980s, Melvin Burgess has no time for either hushed, poetic contemplations on drug-taking or clumsy, moralistic incitements to Just Say No.

Without pretension, he wades into his milieu – with its squats, street kids and punk music – and matter-of-factly delivers a taut, compelling drama about two 14-year-old runaways. I loved this book when I was 14 myself and I still love it today.

Catalyst – Laurie Halse Anderson

90yabooks05This is a novel that tends to get overshadowed by Laurie Halse Anderson’s more famous Speak (which I would also recommend), but I personally think Catalyst is a better example of Anderson doing what she does best: strong, character-driven stories about teenagers making mistakes and trying to be better.

YA lit generally prefers to spend time with the outcasts, but Catalyst tunnels into the mind of a college-bound, straight-A student – and finds that the college-bound, straight-A students have just as many issues as the outcasts. (This novel was actually published in 2002, not the 90s, but shhh… time is flat circle, after all.)

Diving In – Kate Cann

90yabooks04Are you ready for a metaphor? Because heroine Coll is a swimmer and she is about to dive in to the treacherous waters of her own awakening sexuality. Whew. Diving In does revolve around a slightly clunky metaphor, but I also think it captures something true about teenage relationships.

Coll’s romance with Art is a good-girl-meets-bad-boy story that contains within it a sharp sense of realism. This kind of realism (sometimes giddy, sometimes bleak) is missing from most of the other 1,783 teen romances I’ve read.

Zoey Fools Around (The Islanders) – Katherine Applegate

90yabooks06This series has had so many names, it’s hard to keep track. First, it was ‘Girlfriends/Boyfriends’, then ‘Making Out’, and now it’s been reissued as ‘The Islanders’. Whatever you call ‘em, there’s a reason the publisher keeps trying to make money out of these books: they’re great.

Zoey Fools Around kick-starts a soapy romp through the lives of a group of very different teenagers, whose connection is that they all live on a tiny island off the coast of Maine. Will you take away my Certified Grown Up card (you get one of those when you hit 30, don’t you know) if I admit I devoured about 15 of these books just last Christmas?

As a series, it’s lovingly characterized and, although you’ll gasp at the soapy plot twists and swoon at the romance, the real charm of these books lies in the quirky details, like would-be meteorologist Claire, who stalks her widow’s walk hoping for storms, or loveable hipster Nina, who “smokes” unlit cigarettes.

What 90s YA books do you think are in need of a little love?

Photo credit: Martina Photography

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