Reading In the 70s and 80s

Part of the resulting discussions from the Wall Street Journal Darkness Too Visible article is what Young Adult books were around “back when I was a teenager.” I’ve also read people comment that the existence of Young Adult books somehow prevents teens from reading non-young-adult books, that is, adult books.

I was born in the mid 1960s. So, that meant I was a “young adult” from the late 70s to the mid 80s. During that time, I read everything: children’s books, teen books, and adult books. I read old and new titles. I read classics and crap.

I found what I read in bookstores (suburban New Jersey), such as Walden Books. There were some things in the library. The school libraries had an odd mix of books — just as odd as the books I liked reading! My high school library had Stephen King and Lenora Mattingly Weber.

Young adult authors and books that I read as a young adult. For some, such as Ellen Emerson White, I continued to look for and read books by her even when I got older.

Norma Klein. See her wikipedia article for the titles and dates. More on Klein here and here.

Ellen Emerson White. Wikipedia article for the titles and dates.

Norma Johnston.

Grounding of Group 6 by Julian Thompson.

The Last of Eden by Stephanie S. Tolan.

Tell Me If the Lovers are Losers by Cynthia Voigt. Based on the date, it looks like I read this in college not high school.

It’s a week of 90s temperatures here, so that’s it for now! Check out this website, Cliquey Pizza 3, for a mix of middle grade and YA books from the 80s, with covers I recognize.

Were you a teen reading in the 1970s and 1980s? What YA books did you read? If you didn’t, do the books I mention (or others in the comments or links) ring a bell at all?

Edited to add: A few of us were talking about these books using the Twitter hashtag #80sYA. So, you can search/tweet there.

31 thoughts on “Reading In the 70s and 80s

  1. I was a teen mid-to late-80s, and didn’t read “teen” books at all. I went from reading Madeline L’Engle (but only Wrinkle in Time series) and Judy Blume (not Forever) to Agatha Christie and Piers Anthony. I’m wondering, now, if it wasn’t so much that the teen books weren’t there, but rather that they either a) weren’t at my library (I didn’t buy books at all during this time, and don’t remember going to a bookstore) or b) shelved in such a way that I didn’t know about them. (We had a children’s section downstairs, and then upstairs was adult. When I hit 12 or 13, I decided I was too old for the children’s room, and therefore only had the upstairs books to work from.)

    And, no, none of the authors you mentioned rang a bell at all.


  2. I was more a YA in the nineties, but I read a TON of Christopher Pike, who I know published a lot of his stuff in the late eighties. Also, Carol B. Cooney, RL Stine’s stuff for older kids, pretty much anything with murder in it.


  3. Yep, I’m in the same club. Went from L’Engle and Susan Cooper and Voigt and ZKSyder and Patterson… to Vonnegut and Robbins and confessional poetry like Plath and Sexton. (talk about dark). I remember things like Sweet Valley High being around when I was in 5th and 6th grades, maybe? But by the time I was actually a “young adult” I didn’t mess with those.

    I think, for me, part of the issue is that I hated high school, and I didn’t want to hang out with a lot of the other “young adults” I knew. So books were a way of skipping ahead. I was so desperate to go off to college, get my own place, etc. Secretly, I kept reading the books I’d always loved. (reread Narnia yearly, Little Women too) but I wouldn’t have been caught dead with a romance novel in my hand at the bus stop. I was SERIOUS!



  4. GROUNDING OF GROUP 6!!! And everything else by Julian Thompson. I was a teen in the late 1980s and browsed and bought at every bookstore I could (and then I worked in an indie bookstore, then simply known as a bookstore, when I was 15 … until the pressure from the new Borders shut it down). I bought Annie Dillard, a ton of poetry, as much Robert Heinlein as I could, Piers Anthony, a ton more science fiction and fantasy, a lot of plays, etc. etc. Eclectic.

    But I loved the Julian Thompson books so very much. Group 6, A Question of Survival and maybe one other – read and reread. Those were probably the big YA books I read, if you don’t count all of the Pern books … Great thread, Liz!


  5. Melissa, I think some of L’Engles work (A HOUSE LIKE A LOTUS) falls under “YA.” I went thru a Christie phase…

    Laurel, …. and my Plath/Sexton obsession lasted a good ten years, till my mid 20s. Some of Voigt (the title I have above) is YA. One reading frustration I had as teen was I wanted college books and it seemed the only ones I could find were adult books that weren’t set in modern college times, but in the 50s/early 60s and covered a 20 or so year period. Not quite what I wanted, but something. Darn you, now I remember a book from when I was a HS senior, blanking on the title, about a bunch of girls who were all obsessed with a Plath/Sexton like author. ARG. SVH came out when I was a JR or SR in HS, and was never my cup of tea.

    Just realizing, too, some of the YA I found out about — I think was either from the NYT or Seventeen.

    Ariel, ha! to anything with a murder in it. For adult books I read? I also had a mini phase with spy books, starring The Saint, Simon Templar.


  6. Suzi, yes, Thompson’s other books, too! I discovered Pern from one of the authors teen titles, the Dragonsingers trilogy? Then the adult ones. LOVED THEM. But kinda laugh at rereads because, hello, people have sex when their dragons do?!? Also, I think that also happend with those tiny dragons, too….


  7. As a teen, I didn’t know about YA books, either. We read classics and some adult contemporary in school. At home, I read books that had been made into movies or books that my grandmothers handed down. Those were the only new books I heard about. I also read my parents’ lit books from college because they were in the house.

    I think I would have loved YA books if I had read them. In grade school, my friends and I did read Go Ask Alice, and my friend retold the plots of all the V.C. Andrews books for me. They sounded too scary to read first-hand. But I did read Stephen King and Silence of the Lambs. Which didn’t make much sense, thinking back.

    This is why YA and children’s book news is so much fun to read now. I finally feel like I’m in the know! And I love sharing book news with my sons and the people I know.


  8. I am the same age and grew up in suburban NJ, too, and none of the books you mention rings a bell. I remember reading The Outsiders and Summer of My German Soldier, but generally was more interested in adult books at that time. I’m sure I read some other YA novels in middle school but can’t remember which ones.

    However, what I do remember is how different YA novels felt from adult novels. They spoke directly to me, and seemed so considerate, aware of my needs/interest/viewpoint that it was almost too much for me to bear! Maybe that’s why I preferred the distance of adult novels. Who knows?


  9. I was born in 1960, and grew up south of Chicago. Some of my favorite books as a teen were The Outsiders, Seventeenth Summer (which I just read again recently, holds up well!), and everything by Rosamond Du Jardin. I think I read Practically Seventeen about a 100 times. I vividly remember when I was about 12, I was browsing the adult fiction section at my local library, when a librarian came up to me, grabbed me very forcibly by the arm, and said “you are too young for these books.” and marched me back to the children’s section. I was one of those kids who read everything I could get my hands on, and was mortified when she did that. No lasting damage though, since librarians are still my very favorite people!


  10. I was a teen of the late 90s/early 00s but I blazed through Voight’s back catalog. Homecoming made a lasting impact and I think I need to re-visit Jackaroo.

    I do remember one book I felt really proud of sneaking past my mum was The China Garden. Does anyone else remember it? Paranormal fantasy before it was a fad.


  11. I grew up in the middle of the country in the 70s and 80s. I devoured every book I could get my greedy little hands on. I was drawn to the non-Sweet Valley High stories. When I read the WSJ article, I immediately thought about M.E. Kerr’s Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! which was published in 1972. Dinky is an overweight girl trying to lose weight by abusing diet pills as she comes to terms with a father who killed himself. Explores childhood/teen relationships as Dinky develops boy troubles which, if my memory is correct, also address class issues. Not exactly unicorns and puppies and rainbows. Great read.

    I’m enjoying the responses to the WSJ article. It’s a poorly written piece that really needs to be addressed.


  12. I’m about the exact same age as you, Liz, but didn’t read the same books. I think I read mainly adult books. I know in 8th grade (when we had a reading contest, which I won) I read lots of Agatha Christie and Mary Stewart.

    I discovered Anne of Green Gables in 10th grade, and it seemed a huge breath of fresh air after all the adult books I’d been reading. I read all the LM Montgomery books as they were republished in the US. That was also about when I discovered Jane Austen. Oh, and The Scarlet Pimpernel!

    As you can perhaps tell, my school library had, how shall we say, more classics than current books. I don’t remember any sort of “new books” display. Oh, I do remember discovering Mrs. Pollifax in the public library — but I definitely browsed the adult shelves in high school.


  13. Oh, you just got me remembering Christmas Carol Kauffmann! Her books were Christian stories, usually romance, that had some sort of tragic element: Glorious tearjerkers! I think I still own a couple of those — I’m going to have to reread them and see if they stand up to an adult sensibility.


  14. I was a teen in the ’90s, but an avid library user, so I read lots of 80s and 70s YA too. I, too, read Ellen Emerson White and Norma Johnston (someone else read Norma Johnston?!?!) and lots and lots of Cynthia Voigt. I was big into horror and suspense– Lois Duncan was my favorite, but I did the Stine and Pike and Cooney too. I tried Stephen King but couldn’t get into him. I didn’t care about all the adults and their Adult Concerns (even if those happened to be Avoiding Grisly Deaths). But I probably read more adult books as a teen than I do today, oddly enough… adult mysteries I loved, more than adult horror. I also kept going back and forth between the YA and children’s section– I decided even then that I wasn’t going to be snobbish about age recommendations– after all, I’d found some of my favorite books in the children’s section and they still were my favorites, why shouldn’t I find MORE favorite books there?


  15. I, am a little older than you and grew up in New Jersey. I went to the library everyday in the summer and like so many others , I went from wonderful children’s books to classics and other adult books. I did read Mary Stoltz & Betty Cavannah. One summer a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I also read Seventh Summer – cannot remember the author’s name. Maybe this is why I so love reading this blog – there is a developmental gap in my reading history !


  16. I was reading YA in the late 70s, early 80s. For the most part I went from children’s to Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Dick Francis, and Harlequin Presents paperbacks.

    I was in sixth grade when Forever came out, and boy was that a megahit. My math teacher read aloud a word problem about train schedules and a kid named Ralph and the entire room collapsed into hysterics. In seventh grade everyone was passing around Flowers in the Attic and soon after we were learning about oral sex from Judith Krantz’s Scruples (because isn’t it normal to *ahem* your hot young chauffeur right after a funeral? Yikes!).

    I fondly remember the thrill of reading Go Ask Alice, and I nearly fell out of my chair when you mentioned Steffie Can’t Come Out to Play a few days ago because Steffie and Alice are probably the only two “problem novels” I read (that I recall anyhow). I also followed Joan Aiken from Willoughby Chase et al into her adult romantic suspense novels. And there were some YA romances (maybe by the Normas?) that now leave me feeling a little squicky, like the high school kid finding true love with her history teacher, or the 17-year-old falling in love with the 33-year-old who might have Huntington’s Chorea (But he doesn’t! It’s all an evil plot! True love wins out! Even though he’s old enough to be her father!).


  17. I was YA during the 1980s too…and I remember trying to appreciate the very small YA section in my local public library (Central Library, in Arlington VA). I failed. The only book I remember reading from that section was Cobbler’s Dream, by Monica Dickens–the rest, which I recall as being relistic stories about teenagers, didn’t appeal at all. So I stuck with my favorites from the children’s room, and turned to fantasy for new reads. I would so have loved all the wealth of YA fantasy that there is today!

    Not YA, particularly, but I remember how impressed my friends and I all were at Clan of the Cave Bear, and I remember also passing around a book called “High Flying Lust,” which I could only stomach the first page of. Awful porn, it was.


  18. So if YA was there, but it wasn’t available to a reader, did it exist? Yes…but no. Interesting to see the different responses.

    Bridget, I read so many books because they were in the house and I was bored. It meant I read my mom’s lit books, Shakespeare, Pride & Prejudice, Rose Kennedy’s memoir, Readers Digest books, whatever my mom had checked out of the library. Being bored and having only the books in the house = how to make a reader!

    Roger, I’ll have to track down a copy to see if that is it! And if it is, I have a few more stumpers for you…

    Alida, I’m trying to remember my teen self. What I read. Such a variety of things — over so much time — I think for YA what usually attracted me was plot and for some topics, a preference for the POV of a teen (what if my grandfather were a Nazi) rather than a grownup. I also read a bunch of fantasy, science fiction, romance, Hitchhikers Guide, Agatha Christie, a kick of reading just 1920s era girls series, etc etc. Moves have greatlly reduced my access to the copies of the books I bought so I cannot say more than that, and I didn’t record titles in my journals. Oh well.

    Joan, I remember watching the AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL about Dinky! I also had a time there were I read a lot of dying sister books. The girl who fell from the tree? Joss or something? Plus of course a summer to die. And one with twins were one got leukemia?

    Sondy, ANNE!!! I love Anne. I get angry when the LMM books are called kids books because there is so much there, and no, not just for kids. Have you read LMM’s journals? (Am I a bit obsessed? yes…)

    rockinlibrarian, i think we need to do something for Norma Johnston. Especially her Tish Sterling books. She rocks.

    Mira, I’d forgotten Stolz. And Cavanna. There’s a good chance the books I cannot recall titles of may be by them.


  19. Lisa, when I think about the books like SCRUPLES that I read as a teen, that’s when I think — nope, there’s nothing in YA that is “worse” or “darker” than the books from back in the day. I mean, remember John Saul and his evil children? So many gorey deaths! Oh, you just reminded me of a book — teenage girl. Poor. Has “good” boyfriend. She babysits for the single father nextdoor. Long story short, her “happy ending” is moving in with the single father and marrying him and being a Mommy by senior year. No joke. Now I’m like…that’s creepy.

    Charlotte, I read a bunch of fantasy in HS and can remember so few titles or plots. I just remember reading them. Sigh.


  20. Mary Stolz books which I remember with great love

    Who Wants Music on Monday
    The Seagulls Woke Me
    Pray Love, Remember
    Because of Madeleine


  21. I was born at the time you mention so I am actually a child of the early 80’s to mid 90’s and was a young adult starting in the mid to late 90’s, but YA fiction was not real popular with my generation, plus my school’s library only had the classical selections (The Taming of the Shrew, The Scarlet Letter, etc), so I spent a lot of time reading YA books that were handed down to me from Mum’s generation. I had a few of Blume’s titles, “Are you there God” and “Blubber”.

    I think the school’s do a really terrible job when it comes to YA literature by not pushing to add it to the curriculum. I spent a lot of time reading outside of this genre, mainly because I never really knew it existed until I got to college. Here are some titles from those decades that I read:

    Are You There God, Its me Margaret
    My Darling, My Hamburger
    My Name is Asher Lev
    Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
    Gorilla, My Love
    The New Girl
    The Contender

    I’m sure I will be able to think of more later, but does anyone remember a book from the early 90’s that was about a young girl who rescues her family while they are vactioning on a lake from these crazed men? They get home safely, but she suffers PTS and dumps her boyfriend at school and ditches her best friend. The men have located the family and return to kill them off, but she rescues them again and suddenly regains her previous composure and patches things up with her guy and friend. I thought that book was so great! Don’t know why, but would love to find it and read it again after all these years. I think its been like 14 years.


  22. Back in June, Lisa mentioned a questionable book about a 17 year old girl who falls in love with her history teacher. Does anyone know the name of that book?


  23. I’m crowdsourcing an answer at Twitter: other possibilities: LOVE & LIES by Wittlinger, 18 year old falls for writing teacher; LIFE IS FINE, Whittenberg: and SEASON OF EDEN, Warwick


  24. Liz…the boks you mentioned are all fairly new books. The title for the book I’m interested in is from the 70s or 80s. Thank you for you’re help!


  25. I love you!
    I have been trying to remember the name of “The Grounding of Group 6” for 15+ years!! I have asked on book message boards all over the place and no one even remotely knew what I was talking about. (Didn’t help that I referred to it as a “camp” rather than as a “school”. O, forty two year old brain, you fail me.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s