Imagine a time before “Paranormal Romance” was a major section of teen books at the store, before Twilight and The Hunger Games were written, when one still had to wait for the next Harry Potter book to come out. (Can you imagine having to wait a whole year between reading The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets? It was tough, let me tell you!) This was in the 90s, when I first discovered YA fantasy books.
I know a fellow blogger has already mentioned how new YA is as a genre, , so I’ll spare you my own old lady stories of walking uphill in the snow to get books at the library. But since I’m in a reminiscing mood, here are some of my favorites from the good ol’ days:
Tamora Pierce, my first literary hero, remains one of my favorite authors for her spirited heroines and detailed fantasy worlds. I started with her Circle of Magic, The Song of the Lioness Quartet and The Immortals Quartet.
Robin McKinley‘s books also feature epic fantasy stories and strong female protagonists. I just saw another blogger mention one of her early books, The Blue Sword, and I loved the sequel, The Hero and the Crown. She also wrote several fairy tale retellings, where the heroine takes a more active role in the story rather than just waiting to be rescued. Both of these authors are especially recommended for fans of adventure stories like Graceling.
Meredith Pierce’s Darkangel Trilogy combines a unique fantasy world with a classic Beauty and the Beast-style love story, though the final book contains some surprising twists.
Garth Nix‘s Sabriel also features a great heroine and an interesting approach to parallel worlds and magic–the titular Sabriel is learning to be Abhorsen, a necromancer who specializes in putting the dead to rest, rather than raising them. It’s the first book in The Old Kingdom series, and a fourth book is currently in the works. His post-apocalyptic book, Shade’s Children, is another favorite. I traumatized my 7th grade class with a book report about it, which included a detailed description of the Overlords’ gruesome methods of ruling over the humans in the story. (But I still got an A.)
Philip Pullman’s complex and controversial His Dark Materials Trilogy has a fascinating plot and a many interesting characters. This series required a re-read to fully understand the story, but it was well worth it.
Amelia Atwater-Rhodes wrote and published her first book in her teens–very inspiring to me as I just started to dream of becoming a writer. Her Den of Shadows series, started in 1999 with In the Forests of the Night, was my first experience with teen vampire books–a sort of Twilight-before-Twilight, though with much more action. Fans of L.J. Smith should definitely give this series a try.
I also would like to mention Diana Wynne Jones‘ Chrestomanci series and Madeleine L’Engle‘s Time Quintet, which starts with A Wrinkle in Time. The earlier ones are aimed at a slightly younger audience, but I discovered them about the same time I found the above. All of these greatly shaped both my reading preferences and inspired my own writing.
Some of these are hard to find in bookstores now, but they are well worth looking for! And we still have a few copies at CCPL. If you’re tech-savvy, you can find plenty of them in e-reader format through The Ohio E-Book Project and our other digital services, or you can request them from outside the system through MORE. Don’t be shy about asking your friendly neighborhood librarian for help requesting them–you might even catch a gleam of nostalgia in their eyes as they type in the titles.
For readers of classic fantasy, then and now, which are the authors and books that most inspire you and/or make you nostalgic? Share your favorites in the comments!