young adult books: then vs. now.

Walking through the bookstore the other day, I came to a conclusion:

I am jealous of teenagers today.

And it’s all because of the reading material available and marketed to them today.

When I was growing up, ‘Young Adult’ did not exist the way it does now. There was not the level and variety of young adult books that are now available. In fact, I’m not even sure that section of the bookstore was called ‘Young Adult’ back then. It may have just been called ‘Teen’ or ‘Older Readers’.

I remember, in the bookstore I used to go to, the section was in the back of the store next to the children’s and baby books. The section was very small, maybe half a shelf lengthwise from floor to top. Nothing like the three aisles, front and back, that you see at bookstores today.

And our selection was very small, as well. Some of the prominent authors I remember were Lois Duncan, V.C. Andrews, Judy Blume, R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, L.J. Smith, Caroline B. Cooney, and Jennifer Baker. We had series such as The Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins/Sweet Valley High, Boyfriends/Girlfriends (now known as Making Out), Fear Street, and Sweet Dreams. I’m sure there were more, but I can’t remember them.

Then, when you had run out of those books to read, you could move on to the grown-up books written by Stephen King, Ann Rice, Danielle Steel, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz or Robin Cook. Those books were in the ‘Fiction’ section.

Our young adult section consisted of a lot of older published books such as A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Outsiders, the Little Women series, the Little House series, and the Anne of Green Gables series. I’ve found the majority of these books currently categorized as classics in the children’s section of my local bookstore.

Many of the young adult books we read weren’t even new or contemporary. I remember reading one of the Sweet Valley High books and one of the twins was really excited because she got to wear her brand new outfit that consisted of blue jeans and a button down shirt. And everyone thought it was the coolest outfit. I think the Sweet Valley High books were published in 1981 or ‘82 and I probably read this book in 1990 or ‘91 and I remember thinking “What??? That is not a cool outfit.” I love Judy Blume but Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. was published in 1978 and Forever… was published in 1975. And while the Sweet Dreams series was still being published in 1995, with over 200 books in that series, the first book was published in 1981.

Not only do teenagers have more books to choose from, but they look nicer too. Practically every YA book I see at the book store is either hardcover or a trade paperback. When I was a teenager, books were mostly published as mass market paperbacks. There were a few, such as The Baby-Sitters Club and Little House that were published in slightly larger sizes that were in between the mass market and trade paperback size. But I don’t remember many that were published as hardcovers.

Teenagers today, they’ve got it going on at the bookstore.


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