The Surprising, Short History of Young Adult Fiction
Does Ponyboy still have a special place in your heart? Here's how he, Nancy, and Margaret paved the way for Harry, Bella, and Katniss.
The American Library Association (ALA) creates the Young People's Reading Roundtable, along with an annual list suggesting children's and adult novels. (Believe it or not, the Nancy Drew girl-detective series is deemed too popular and doesn't make the list.) "This is the first time that literature is marketed directly to teens," says David Levithan, an author and the editorial director of Scholastic.
Psychologists Robert James Havighurst and Erik Erikson each write a trailblazing book defining adolescence as a developmental stage when identity independence takes hold. The ALA follows suit by creating a Young Adult Services Division in libraries. "The term "young adult" doesn't come into general use until 1958, but you can credit the librarians for it," says Elizabeth Bird, the collection development manager of the Evanston Public Library, in Evanston, Illinois.
S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders—a plot involving gangs, a robbery, and a killing— kicks off the first golden age of YA lit. "It sparked authors to write novels that were more than just, as Hinton put it, 'a horse and the girl who loved it' story lines," says Bird.
The second golden age of YA dawns with J. K. Rowling's boy wizard in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. A year later, legions of fans camp outside bookstores for up to nine hours to get their hands on the next book in the series. The fantasy genre explodes.
Kids are finding the Next Big Thing on their own, says Diane Roback, a children's book editor at Publishers Weekly. The newest standout is teen YouTube star Paige McKenzie. Her channel, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, lands her a major book deal.