Pudge will steal your heart and take you right back to the thrill of first love.
KATHERINE REAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF DEAR MR. KNIGHTLEY AND THE PRINTED LETTER BOOKSHOP
Hey YA Readers!
I don’t know about you, but I sure love thinking about the biggest, buzziest, bestselling YA books of days gone by. In many instances, it’s a real reminder of the gems from the backlist worth revisiting, as much as it’s a reminder of how far the category has come in terms of style and representation.
Today, let’s take a look back at some of the bestsellers of yesteryear. I’ll highlight titles from 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, and 50 years ago and pull the description from Goodreads or Amazon (depending who has it!). These are fascinating to look at and think about and for older readers of YA, perhaps one of these was your favorite when you were but 14 or 15.
It’s interesting to see how much the main characters in big YA books have aged up over the years. For a long time, 12 and 13 year olds were common in young adult books; now, more and more, it’s 17 and 18 year olds ruling in these books. This is likely due to more adult readership and more adult-friendly YA main characters, as well as an expanding middle grade category that better captures those tween and teen characters.
Note this isn’t at all scientific. I’ve gone through some lists of big US books of each of these years and used my own knowledge to pick titles. It will not surprise you how many are by white authors given publishing’s history. Big books that were not the first in a series aren’t included, and I’ve limited to one book per author, as some, like Judy Blume, had big books in more than one of these years.
Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
This Is Where It Ends by Marike Nijkamp
Everyone has a reason to fear the boy with the gun…
10:00 a.m.: The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
10:02 a.m.: The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
10:03 a.m.: The auditorium doors won’t open.
10:05 a.m.: Someone starts shooting.
Over the course of 54 minutes, four students must confront their greatest hopes, and darkest fears, as they come face-to-face with the boy with the gun. In a world where violence in schools is at an all-time high and school shootings are a horrifyingly common reality for teenagers, This Is Where It Ends is a rallying cry to end the gun violence epidemic for good.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
One choice can transform you. Beatrice Prior’s society is divided into five factions—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice must choose between staying with her Abnegation family and transferring factions.
Her choice will shock her community and herself. But the newly christened Tris also has a secret, one she’s determined to keep hidden, because in this world, what makes you different makes you dangerous.
Legend by Marie Lu
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.
From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Here is a small fact – you are going to die 1939. Nazi germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on himmel street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death it’s a small story, about: a girl an accordionist some fanatical germans a jewish fist fighter and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – death will visit the book thief three times
Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard
Set in ultra-trendy Rosewood, Pennsylvania, Pretty Little Liars centers around four beautiful girls who are hiding some very ugly secrets, and the one person who knows them all…and is not afraid to spill.
Fans of the Pretty Little Liars TV show will find the book packed with the same kind of juicy secrets, taut suspense, and jaw-dropping surprises that they know and love, all brought to life in New York Times bestselling author Sara Shepard’s compellingly gripping writing.
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Twelve-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous–and extremely high-tech–fairies.
He kidnaps one of them, Holly Short, and holds her for ransom in an effort to restore his family’s fortune.
But he may have underestimated the fairies’ powers. Is he about to trigger a cross-species war?
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins.
The Awakening (Vampire Diaries #1) by LJ Smith
Elena Gilbert is a high school golden girl, used to getting what she wants. And who she wants. But when the boy she’s set her sights on—the handsome and haunted Stefan—isn’t interested, she’s confused. She could never know the real reason Stefan is struggling to resist her:
Stefan is a vampire, and Elena’s in danger just by being around him. What’s more, Stefan’s dark, dangerous vampire brother Damon has just arrived in town. And wherever Damon goes, trouble always follows.
In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Barry Moser
A thought-provoking collection of twenty-five stories that reflect the wonder and glory of the origins of the world and humankind. With commentary by the author.
Stranger With My Face by Lois Duncan
Have you ever been haunted by the feeling that someone is spying on you, lurking around your house and yard, even entering your bedroom? Are your friends plotting against you when they say they’ve seen you do things you know you haven’t done? What’s going on — and does Laurie really want to find out?
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
What does it take to recover from tragedy? This masterful Judy Blume novel has a fresh new look.
Davey Wexler has never felt so alone. Her father has just been killed—shot in a holdup at the 7-Eleven near their home. And now her mother has transplanted her and her little brother, Jason, to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to stay with family and recover.
But Davey is withdrawn, full of rage and fear and loneliness. Then one day, while exploring a canyon, she meets an older boy who calls himself Wolf. Wolf is the only one who understands her—the only one who can read her sad eyes. And he is the one who helps her realize that she must find a way to move forward with her life.
Davey is one of Judy Blume’s most hauntingly true human beings, capturing the deep ways a person can change that can’t be seen—only felt. Her story has been felt, deeply, by readers for decades.
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
After you’ve had it, there isn’t even life without drugs…
It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth—and ultimately her life.
Read her diary.
Enter her world.
You will never forget her.
His Own Where by June Jordan
His Own Where is the story of Buddy, a fifteen-year-old boy whose world is spinning out of control. He meets Angela, whose angry parents accuse her of being “wild.” When life falls apart for Buddy and his father, and when Angela is attacked at home, they take action to create their own way of staying alive in Brooklyn. In the process, the two find refuge in one another and learn that love is real and necessary
That Was Then, This Is Now by SE Hinton
That Was Then, This is Now is S. E. Hinton’s moving portrait of the bond between best friends Bryon and Mark and the tensions that develop between them as they begin to grow up and grow apart.
Any surprises or any big nostalgia moments kick in for you? If you haven’t, let me put in a big plug for His Own Where, which is such an incredible read. I picked it up a few years ago and think about it a lot — there’s a fresh, updated cover, making it super appealing to today’s teen readers.
As always, thanks for hanging out. We’ll see you again on Thursday with news and new YA book releases!