15 YA Books From The ’80s And ’90s That Have Stood The Test Of Time
These are the books that have aged like a fine wine. (Presented in chronological order.)
Not the first queer YA novel, but the first major one to offer its heroines the kind of happily-ever-after ending previously seen only in straight romances. It's not just groundbreaking; it's beyond sweet, and it’ll leave you reminiscing about your first love (and possibly sending some ill-advised DMs).
Wright's sensitive supernatural tales about girls with eerie abilities — who still have to deal with stuff like divorcing parents and school bullies — have aged incredibly well. Think of them as Judy Blume with a shot of The X-Files.
This story about the emotional distance that develops between two middle school friends remains resonant for anyone still trying to figure out why some friendships fade (and why your best friend's other group of friends are such assholes).
This series about the teen pageant circuit is roughly 50 times campier than your most beloved nighttime soap, offering everything from blackmail, to evening gown sabotage, to people very earnestly referring to cocaine as “nose candy.”
Soon after she started chronicling the babysitting life in Stoneybrook, Martin also published this extremely dark teen novel about popularity, cruelty, and that paper-based precursor to internet bullying, the slam book.
Klein's YA novels have been largely forgotten, which is a damn shame. She writes about teen sexuality with insight and zero shame — and, in this book, presents a destigmatized view of abortion.
Hamilton won both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award for her thoughtful, evocative books about the inner lives of tweens and teens. In this one, she turned her eye toward both eating disorders and family discord, examining the fraught relationship between two young cousins.
This isn’t just a beautifully written coming-of-age romance about a high school senior's final months in her small, racist hometown — it’s also widely considered the first contemporary-set YA novel with an Asian American protagonist, written by an Asian American author. (She now writes literary fiction as Marie Myung-Ok Lee.)
The kids of NEATE were active and activist-y — over the course of this short series, they protested voter suppression, saved a refugee shelter from closure, explored the prejudice that biracial kids deal with, AND put on a pretty solid talent show performance. Kinda puts your seventh-grade experience to shame, huh? (Yes, fine, that baking soda volcano you made was cool.)
When Sunita Sen’s grandparents arrive from India for an extended visit to her California home, her parents freak out. Terrified that the grandparents will be disappointed in how they run their home, the Sens drastically change their lives — teaching Sunita a lesson in honesty, expectations, and how we never quite stop fearing our parents’ judgment.
*Originally published as The Sunita Experiment.
When you think Christopher Pike, you probably think ax murderers, cursed chain letters, and the occasional evil lizard person — and with good reason! But in this sensitive novel, set at a hospice for terminally ill teens, Pike mashes up standard scary stories with an exploration of what fear really means when illness is more of a threat than haunted houses or sexy vampires.
Created by YA great Myers, this series follows a group of African American teens who meet up daily at their favorite after-school pizza spot — and was written specifically as a corrective to the overwhelming whiteness of ’90s YA.
This book has everything: ghost brides, angry supermodels, sinister threats, faked deaths, paparazzi, Porsches, marrying for money, dangerous saunas, and a rain of mysteriously dead birds! Someone option this book for a TV series. (Also, please let me write for this TV series.)
Want more '80s and '90s YA? Watch Gabrielle Moss on AM to DM.
Gabrielle Moss is a lifestyle features editor at Bustle and the author of Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction and GLOP: Nontoxic, Expensive Ideas That Will Make You Look Ridiculous and Feel Pretentious. Her writing has appeared in Slate, the New Yorker, the Hairpin, and many other fine publications. She is definitely a Jessica.
Paperback Crush is out Oct. 30.