The YA Decade

Heidi on January 24, 2010
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No other genre (except maybe graphic novels) has grown and changed as much during the last decade as young adult fiction. Inspired by Harry Potter (and probably a little bit by Lemony Snicket and Artemis Fowl), a whole generation of voracious readers emerged, and a whole new group of writers came up with stories to keep them reading well into their teens.

Over the past few years, we've seen a lot of YA controversies: Is the drinking in this book appropriate for young adult readers? What's the deal with these adult readers of YA? Should Rebecca wear the red dress or the blue dress to the prom? Should she go with the dark faerie or the newly-made-vampire geek boy?

YA authors are very prolific. Some of them write two or even three books a year, so the idea that I could come up with the ten best books of the decade seemed ludicrous. Also, many of the best--and most of the successful--YA books come in series.

So, I decided instead to list eight authors, certainly some of my favorites, who have shaped the world and language of YA over the past ten years. They are provocative, prolific, and inspiring. Some of them are rich with awards, others with fans, others with cash. The trait they all share is that they are influential. We get many advance review copies of YA books at our house, and these are the authors that most of them are trying to emulate in one way or another.

Here they are in approximate chronological order (based on when they published their first YA books):

1. M.T. AndersonOctavian1
primary contributions: writing YA books that adults take seriously; influencing multiple YA subgenres: vampire, romantic comedy, dystopian, and historical.

YA novels:
Thirsty (1997, his vampire novel)
Burger Wuss (1999)
Feed (2002, L.A. Times Book Prize winner and finalist for National Book Award)
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party (2006, winner of the National Book Award)
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. II: The Kingdom of the Waves (2008, Michael L. Printz Honor from YALSA)

paved the way for: Scott Westerfeld, John Green, Stephenie Meyer, and basically everyone else who aspires to literary YA fiction

2. Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak primary contributions: writing about the things you're not supposed to talk about; enduring a book ban now and again with grace; general awesomeness

YA novels:
Speak (1999)
Catalyst (2002)
Prom (2005)
Twisted (2007)
Wintergirls (2009)

next book:
Forge, a follow-up to 2008 National Book Award nominee Chains (Oct 2010)

paved the way for: Jay Asher, Elizabeth Scott, Gayle Forman, to name just a few

3. Meg Cabot
Princessdiaries1 primary contributions: cheeky girl humor; writing one of the first super-series; constantly encouraging aspiring writers

To describe how I feel about Meg Cabot, I have to borrow one of my grandma's favorite phrases: Isn't she just darling? When she's not busy writing, like, a million books, she writes to her fans on Meg's Diary, her blog.

YA Series:
The Princess Diaries (2000, first of a series of 10, which ran until 2009)
Shadowland (from The Mediator series, 2000-2004)
Airhead (2008, first in a series that also includes Being Nikki)

YA novels (examples):
Teen Idol (2004)
Avalon High (2005)
Pants on Fire (2007)
All-American Girl (2008)

paved the way for: Melissa Walker, E. Lockhart, Ally Carter, Sarah Mlynowski, and many other funny women of YA

4. Cecily Von Ziegesar
Gossipgirl9primary contributions: creating a YA niche so steamy it would make Jackie Collins jealous; enduring frequent ban/censoring attempts; turning real-life prep school experience into an industry

Of the YA books we've received for consideration at our house, the Gossip Girl series is the most frequently imitated. It's Gossip Girl... in Philadelphia. It's Gossip Girl... with vampires. Etc. Also, like The Twilight Saga, it's brought YA to the forefront of mainstream pop culture, and criticism (like Rebecca Mead's semi-recent New Yorker story on Alloy Entertainment, "The Gossip Mill".)

Novels (all Gossip Girl, all the time):
Gossip Girl (2001, first in a series of 11 novels that "ended" in 2007... the last three ghostwritten, per von Ziegesar)
It Had to Be You (2007, the first Gossip Girl prequel)
Gossip Girl: The Carlyles (2008-2009, spin-off series)
The It Girl (2005-2009, another spin-off series)

next book: Cum Laude (June 2010)

5. Christopher Paolini
Books-eragon primary contributions: putting the notion in our heads that a YA can write a successful YA novel; putting the notion in publisher's heads that YA fantasy can sell

YA Novels (in the Inheritance Cycle):
Eragon (2003)
Eldest (2005)
Brisingr (2008)

6. Scott Westerfeld
primary contributions: crossing over to YA as an established science fiction writer for adults; raising the profile of YA SciFi; writing one of the most beloved/recommended YA series (the Uglies)

UgliesYA series:
Uglies (2005, book one in the Uglies trilogy, with a fourth book, Extras, added in 2009)
Midnighters (book 1 of a 3-book series, 2005-2007)

YA novels:
So Yesterday (2005)
Peeps (2006, his vampire novel)
The Last Days (2007, sequel to Peeps)

paved the way for: YA SciFi superstars like Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games) and Cory Doctorow (Little Brother)

7. Stephenie Meyer
primary contributions: supernatural teen romance crossover; author as celebrity; book-writing mommy; person who dreams about something and writes it down and it becomes a best-selling series

Twilight YA novels (duh):
Twilight (2005)
New Moon (2006)
Eclipse (2007)
Breaking Dawn (2008)

cleared a path in the supernatural romance subgenre for: Cassandra Clare, Melissa Marr, Maggie Stiefvater

in the vampire subgenre: PC and Kristen Cast, Richelle Mead

8. John Green
Paper

primary contributions: nerdfighters; using YouTube to connect with his readers; writing books about teens that teens want to read; telling the guy's side of the crush; incorporating Walt Whitman into a YA novel

An Abundance of Katherines (2006)
Looking for Alaska (2006)
Let it Snow (2008, with Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle)
Paper Towns (2008, Edgar Award, Teen Choice Award)

Just a note: Other great YA or YA-ish authors of the 00s who easily could have made this list, given slightly different criteria: Sherman Alexie, Ann Brashears, Libba Bray, Kristin Cashore, Suzanne Collins, Sarah Dessen, Cory Doctorow, Siobhan Dowd, Neil Gaiman, Maureen Johnson, Justine Larbalestier, Walter Dean Myers, Patrick Ness, Matt de la Pena, and Terry Pratchett. Please check out their books, too. Happy Reading.--Heidi


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