Did the Young Adult Genre Exist in the Eighties?

It’s been almost seven years. Some of you might recall Janet Quin-Harkin‘s Heartbreak Café, which was then reissued after 25 years. Janet was a pioneer in YA books, and she did it so well. I was pleased to be surprised by the turn of events for the heroine and her exploits when having to find a job after her family’s finances collapsed.

The whole series of books are now published in time for Valentines Day, and below Janet muses about YA and her role in it:

“I was very proud, a couple of years ago, to be given an achievement award by RT Magazine for being a pioneer in the YA genre. When I was asked to write my first YA novel I went to the bookstore and there were only four or five YA books. They were rather dark and angst-ridden—most with a male hero.

So I was at the forefront of a revolution. My early teen romance books were ground-breaking. Until then books for young people were selected by adults—librarians, well-meaning aunts. With the advent of cheap paperbacks teens could choose their own books, even afford to buy one a week. So they became incredibly popular.

Some of my books sold through a printing of 100,000 in a week or two. I got hundreds of fan letters (real letters in those days that all had to be answered with pen and paper). This worked so well until the market became flooded with inferior writing and teens tired of reading the same thing over and over.

One thing readers have always liked about my books is that they are unconventional. I don’t write the regular boy meets girl romances. Instead there are quirky characters, strange mishaps, embarrassing moments—much more like real life, in fact. I was lucky that I had teenage girls at the time and I confess to shamelessly using some of their more embarrassing moments and weird conversations.

It’s a shame that YA fiction has become dark and violent again, maybe spurred by the success of things like the Hunger Games. Also teens have so many more options to entertain them: Xbox, streaming movies, TikTok. If it weren’t for Harry Potter I think books might have gone the way of the Dodo.”

2 responses to “Did the Young Adult Genre Exist in the Eighties?

  1. This is so interesting! I’d never really thought about ya books in the last, although I’m sure they’ve changed a lot ha

  2. We just read the first book in this series. It’s crazy to think how far YA has come since the end of the 1980s.

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