The History of YA Literature (Part Three)

Modern YA Literature

Up until now, in tracing YA genre history, books read by youth represented either what adults thought young people needed to read (Pilgrims Progress) or what they chose to read (Gulliver’s Travels). At this time, publishers acquired titles that would be marketed to parents of youth. After all, parents or schools were typically the ones with means to purchase. Therefore, books for youth were often either didactic or an entertaining book written to adult audiences that young people got ahold of. However, with a sudden culture shift, publishing houses gained a new market. Michael Cart (2009) explains that “the shrinking job market of The Great Depression sent droves young people out of the job market and into high school” and finally, “it was there that a youth culture began to form visibly enough to attract the attention of marketers, who began labeling its denizens “teens,” “teensters,” and finally, in 1941, “teenagers.”… And so, by the end of the 1940s, a whole new group of consumers who wanted—indeed, needed—to read about themselves had come into being”. Therefore, while books had been written for or read by “teens” before, now publishers were specifically looking for books that teens wanted.

The “Brand-New” Teen

Below find an article from the December 11, 1944 of Life from photographer, Nina Leen. The article shares images documenting the average teen’s lives. Next, is Leen’s June 11, 1945 article in Life featuring Teenage boys. What do you think of the pictures and descriptions, as compared to today’s teens?

The Voice of Teens in YA

Several titles are argued as representing the the beginning of the modern YA literature. But one novel stands out as pivotal. In 1969, The Outsiders, written by S.E. Hinton caught the attention of a literary agent and Viking Publishing. Hinton, was actually Susan Eloise Hinton and she began writing the novel at the age of fifteen. The book was groundbreaking. Telling a story from the teenage point of view, about what is was actually like to be a teenager. Publishers suggested using the name S.E., to throw readers off that the male protagonist voice was written by young girl. Certainly this is an example of how the publishing industry was driven by the culture of the time, when gender roles held still held expectations. (Loveday, V., 2009)

The Outsiders, is the story of Ponyboy Curtis and his neighborhood Greaser gang of close friends. Ponyboy and his friends live in constant tension with the Socs, the more wealthy teens in town. An unexpected violent event causes Pony and his best friend, Johnny to go on the run. Pony’s is a timeless coming-of-age story that addresses socio-economic issues, friendship, morality, mortality, and identity. In an interview with EW ,Hinton explained that the idea for The Outsiders came to her because she was “mad about the social situation at my high school, which was basically the Socs versus the Greasers like it is in the book…Then when a friend of mine got beaten up on his way home from school… I got mad and began a short story..” (Biedenharn, 2017). Here was a a book to which teens could relate!

Warning: This video contains spoilers


Please see part four in this series, “The History of YA Literature (Part Four)”.

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