Celebrating Young Adult fiction by UK authors


Luisa Plaja’s favourite 20th Century UKYA books

I’m often told that YA/teen fiction is a very new thing, and this sometimes causes me to have a small rant (“It is NOT!”) or a big daydream about all the books I loved when I was a teenager myself. There was certainly a lot of fiction for young adults available in my library. It was marked on the spine with a yellow star-shaped sticker, and many of the books were by British authors. (For more details, see this post about my love of teen fiction through the ages at  Strictly Writing: In Search of a Yellow Star, and why not have a go at the ‘spot the decade’ extract quiz there?)

Here, plucked from my bookcase, is a small selection of my beloved UKYA books from the twentieth century.

Love, Emma xxx by Mary Hooper

Love, Emma xxx, published by Pan Books in 1982, is the story of a student nurse. Told in letters and diary entries, it’s funny, realistic and wonderfully British.  I re-read it many times – it was one of my favourite books, jointly with Janey’s Diary by the same author. I also have five more of Mary Hooper’s novels for the eighties Heartlines series (A Love Like Yours, My Cousin Angie, Opposites Attract and Follow that Dream), and the grittier Megan series from the nineties. Mary Hooper now writes gripping historical novels.

Heartlines series, various authors

This was like a British version of the US Sweet Dreams series. I read every book I could get my hands on in the eighties and I collected as many copies of my own as I could.

Diving In by Kate Cann

Published in 1996 by the brilliant Livewire imprint at The Women’s Press, Kate Cann broke new ground with the realistic way she portrayed Coll’s first romantic relationship. The book has two sequels and the series has been republished by Scholastic. Kate Cann’s latest novel, a dystopia called Witch Crag, is out this year and I can’t wait to read it.

The Frog Prince by Nina Rootes

I’m including this one for nostalgia reasons. The story of a British girl falling in love in Paris, it’s filled with dodgy cultural misunderstandings, coming-of-age angst and actual French dialogue. It was technically a film tie-in, but I read it before I saw the film which I’m pretty sure was (ahem) one of the first ever films I watched using a new-fangled gadget known as a “video”…

A Different Life by Lois Keith

I loved every single book published under the Livewire imprint of The Women’s Press, and I still own many of them. A Different Life was published in 1997 and is about the way Libby’s life changes after a swim in the sea leaves her suffering from a mysterious illness, resulting in a permanent disability. A down-to-earth, realistic novel that has stayed with me.

A Bottled Cherry Angel by Jean Ure

Actually, the first Jean Ure book that springs to mind when I think of my favourite teen books is A Proper Little Nooryeff, but I must have borrowed that one from the library as I couldn’t find it on my shelves. A Bottled Cherry Angel is also great, of course, and I own an ex-library copy that my mum picked up for me in 1986. Jean Ure’s books are always brilliant, portraying in-depth teen relationships with a light touch.

The Girl With Brains in Her Feet by Jo Hodges

This time, I think I saw the film before I read the book, even though I think the book came first. Anyway,  I really enjoyed both. Published by Virago in 1998, this is a lively tale of a teenaged runner and her family and friends, with a suburban seventies East Midlands backdrop.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Last but not least, this classic UKYA novel, first published in 1949, needs no introduction. Funny, moving, gorgeous.

Luisa Plaja is the author of several books for teenagers, including Split by a Kiss, Swapped by a Kiss and her latest novel, Kiss Date Love Hate. She was born in Glasgow, mostly grew up in the suburbs of London and has also lived in Lancaster, Birmingham, Durham, and currently Devon.