YA fiction is marketed to the 14-21 age bracket. The majority of YA fiction features young adults as protagonists, with themes and plots reflecting specific issues of this age group, such as sexual awakening, social problems, and sparkly vampires.
Sarah Trimmer, a writer and literary critic in the early 19th century, is credited with first recognizing the importance of literature for young adults. The idea of YA fiction wasn't fully realized for another 150 years, during which time adolescents had to settle for a small selection of teen-friendly literature, which was entirely comprised of a couple of depressing Charles Dickens books and the Anne of Green Gables series, which at last count had approximately 147 sequels and prequels.
In the 1950s and 1960s, with the publication of books like William Golding's Lord of the Flies and S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, the YA fiction market came into its own. No longer content to just read about street urchins and red-haired Canadian chicks, young adults could now find a huge variety of fiction written and marketed just for them, chock-full of stories about sex, gangs, drugs, drinking, suicide, homelessness, rape, incest, abortion, and social alienation. It was truly a great time to be a literate teenager.
Just like a fungal infection, the YA fiction genre kept growing, with the 1980s being its "golden age." This decade saw the explosion of the YA mystery and horror subgenres, a category perfectly exemplified by R.L. Stine's campfire-spooky series Fear Street. As the literary version of the teen slasher movie, these books fulfilled the pressing need that teenagers have to see their fellow young adults tormented in gruesome ways, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally. Just like high school!
It's important to note that, before the 1990s, YA fiction might have been a fairly lucrative career but wasn't exactly the best avenue for an author to find fame and fortune.
And then, from the British countryside, Joanne "J.K." Rowling burst onto the YA fiction scene in 1997 with the first Harry Potter book. Within only a few years, the Internet had begun to buckle under the strain of hosting Draco/Harry slash fanfic. Rowling became a gazillionaire and may in fact be secretly ruling the world. Selling sexual-tension-laden fairy tales marketed specifically towards the spoiled offspring of indulgent Flower Children suddenly became de rigeur.
Even before the Harry Potter mania began to wane, a new phenomenon took the young adult world by storm. This time, it was a series of books about a clumsy little snowflake and the sparkly vampire who fell in love with her. Yes, that's right: Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, the books singlehandedly responsible for forcing Robert Pattinson's emo bangs into every nook and cranny of the world.
Now, amidst the millions of drooling fangirls with "Team Edward" on their Trapper Keepers and self-inflicted cuts on their arms, we must sit back and wait to see what lies in store for the young adult fiction genre.
C.S. Lewis - Cleverly disguising religious propaganda as a children's fairy tale, Lewis created the Chronicles of Narnia series.
V.C. Andrews - Although Andrews herself died in 1986, a neverending parade of ghostwriters has taken up her trademarked name and continued to churn out YA book series in the vein of Andrews's best-known book, Flowers in the Attic. V.C. Andrews books are known for their gothic horror and the fact that they are filled with more incestuous relationships than a history of the British royal family.
Lurlene McDaniel - A prolific YA author of the 1980s, McDaniel's books all dealt with teenagers suffering from terminal illnesses. Hey, at least the kids were reading, right?
Francine Pascal - Pascal created the Sweet Valley High series, which focused on two hot blonde identical twin teenagers living in Southern California and doing nothing more important than partying with friends and going out with as many guys as possible. You're forgiven for thinking that sounds more like the setup for a great porno flick and less like a series of books that would appeal to masses of 12-year-old girls.
Paul Zindel - One of the most prolific (and, arguably, talented) YA authors, Zindel has written over 40 YA books, most of which have been banned at some point. And, as we all know, the banned books are the best ones. Because sometimes they have curse words and sex stuff in them.
Judy Blume - Blume is best known for writing a lot about menstruation.