Jessica Cluess on The History of Young Adult Fiction

Jessica Cluess is a young adult fiction writer with an active and growing readership. Her work deals with romance, fantasy, magic realism, and youth-oriented drama.

In recent years, the rise of dystopian storytelling in young adult (YA) fiction has garnered a great deal of attention and speculation. The genre has even begun to split into “new adult” fiction as YA audiences mature. While it’s normal to look forward when discussing things to do with young audiences, Jessica Cluess points out that YA fiction has a longer and richer history than most might otherwise assume. We asked Jessica Cluess to share her knowledge on the topic. Here’s just some of what we covered.

Jessica Cluess

Jessica Cluess on The History of YA Fiction

Judging by the popularity of the Lord of the Rings films among adult and even aging fans, Jessica Cluess argues, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the books were intended for a youth audience. This alone draws young adult fiction all the way back to 1937. The original Alice in Wonderland material was published in 1916, making YA fiction older still.

Certainly, fiction aimed at very young children is as old as storytelling itself. The category of fiction known as young adult fiction got its official start as early as the 1950s but fiction aimed at older-young people is certainly much older than the 20th century. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to separate out fiction intended for teens and tweens prior to 1920 since teens were considered adults until sometime around that period.

This, Jessica Cluess explains, leaves our history of YA fiction to titles like The Hobbit, The Lion the Witch & The Wardrobe, the Harry Potter Series, The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and so forth. To be more complete, the most highly regarded contributions to the genre are:

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
  • Redwall by Brian Jacques

What all of these books have in common is a rich fantasy setting. Most are reliant on the standard tropes such as those found in the Tolkien books. But Rowling is likely the author most successful at bringing these European mythic themes into a modern setting. And Brian Jacques has done more than most to bring a fresh, fantasist narrative to the fore.

In a genre dominated by child-friendly fantasy, Jessica Cluess reminds us, YA fiction is growing increasingly dark with narratives like those found in The Hunger Games, and the monster-centric Twilight series. It’s a trend that is reflected in her own work, as well as that of some of today’s most popular YA authors.