YA in the 1980s

It’s Me-Me Monday again.  Let’s talk YA–young adult–books.

YA has come a long way in the last decade or so.  The books currently being published are complex, dark, and gritty.  They ask tough questions.  Sometimes, the answers aren’t too pretty.  Back in the 80s–when I was reading YA–it was a hit or miss deal.

YA of the 80s was often a watered down version of adult fiction.  It was shorter.  On average, YA books were only 175 pages in length.  The characters weren’t too deep.  Real, believable issues were skirted and buried under descriptions of fashion and music and dates.  The teenagers in these books were nobody I knew.

Then, there was the money thing.  Graduating to adult fiction was partially a financial decision for me.  YA books cost $2.75-$3.95, and I could finish one book in an afternoon.  At least books by the likes of  Stephen King, Robert R. McCammon, and Jackie Collins lasted three days.

Not all 80s YA novels were ripoffs, though.  Some of them were pretty unforgettable.  My copies of these memorable novels have survived my many moves and my many dysfunctional hurricanes.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share my fond memories of them.

Note: At the end of this post, I’ll invite you to share your favorite YA from your misspent youth, so start digging through your memory banks.

On that Dark Night by Carol Beach York (1985)

This chilling little book explores reincarnation.  It’s out of print, and no summary was available at Amazon.com.  The following is a short blurb I created.

Julie is haunted by memories of someone else’s life.  She hears music she shouldn’t know and remembers kids from another era.  Julie and her best friend set out to uncover Julie’s secret.  But the truth of Julie’s past life may be too terrifying for Julie to face.

Re-reading this book recently, I saw stuff that would never fly in today’s YA.  Nevertheless, it’s a hair-raising story with a great twist at the end.  If you’re interested, used copies are available at Amazon.com.  Click here to go straight to the book’s page.

Don’t Blame the Music by Caroline B. Cooney (1987)

This book is out of print, but it does have a summary on Amazon.com–thank goodness.

When Susan’s burnt-out rock star sister Ashley returns home after a three-year silence, the family begins the near impossible task of welcoming this bitter and abusive woman back into the family.

Ashley’s cruel and destructive behavior at home eats away at Susan, a high-school senior, as she struggles to maintain her sense of balance at school and remain loyal to her sister. Her parents seem helpless as 25-year-old Ashley blames them for her failure.

Susan becomes uncomfortably aware of, and attracted to, her classmate Whit, a sullen outcast rock musician. It is Whit who, in a terrifying climax, helps awaken the entire family to the nightmare they’ve been living, while at the same time helping Susan discover that people are not always what they appear to be.

The characters in this book are amazingly well-drawn for the era.  The conflicts are real.  The themes of mental illness and family dysfunction weren’t so commonly–or skillfully–dealt with in most 80s YA fiction.

Though out of of print, Don’t Blame the Music is available used at Amazon.com.  Click here to go to the book’s page.

Ask me if I Care by H. B. Gilmour (1985)

Summary (courtesy of Amazon.com):

Jenny is fourteen when she moves from her mom’s house in Florida to her dad’s in New York. It’s hard starting over — new family, new school, new friends.

Then Jenny meets Pete McCaffrey, the mysterious boy next door. Stay away from him, everyone warns her, he’s trouble. He’s already got a girlfriend. And he deals drugs.

But Jenny needs someone to lean on, so she ignores their advice. Pretty soon, Pete’s hooked on Jenny. And Jenny is hooked on drugs.

She knows she’s in over her head. The question is, can she get out?

I re-read this book every couple of years.  The issues still feel contemporary, and the characters are still relatable.  The only thing that doesn’t fit with today are the Izod t-shirts…oh wait, those did come back in style, didn’t they?

Slumber Party by Christopher Pike (1985)

Here’s Amazon.com’s summary for this one:

Six teenage girls in a luxurious winter vacation home experience a series of bizarre and violent incidents during a blizzard that makes communication and travel difficult.

Old secrets weigh heavily on the group. Lara has explained to newcomer Celeste that Nell’s facial scars were caused by a tragic fire during the group’s last slumber party, but she is unable to talk about the death that also occurred. For a while, Lara is pleasantly distracted by handsome Percy, but tension returns when Dana disappears. Where she was last seen, only melted snow, ash, and bone remain.

New horrors multiply as the plot races to a surprising and violent end.

When I first read this book, I was impressed because this was a real horror book. It was disturbing without apology and read like an adult novel–except the POV characters were teenagers.

Christopher Pike went on to write some wildly successful YA novels, but Slumber Party was his first YA attempt.  Though out of print, the book is available used at Amazon.com.  Click here to go straight to the book’s page.


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