YA Books Set in the 1970s

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In the latest episode of Hey YA, Hannah brought up a book set in the 1970s and how that’s a time period we don’t see portrayed much in YA books. We’ve definitely seen an array of books set in the ’80s and ’90s, particularly in the last five years or so, but the ’70s have been less represented.

That got my mind going, wondering what types of YA are set in the ’70s. As you’ll see below, there’s a bit, though not a whole lot.

I’ve pulled a handful of 1970s-set YA books for you to dig into. Because I, too, am scratching my head thinking about what YA I’ve read set during this time period (only two or three of the below!), I’m relying on publisher descriptions to highlight these. But now I’ve got a goal for 2021, which is to read a little more YA set in the 20th century prior to the ’80s.

Note that these are not YA books written in the ’70s, but written more recently. Yes—and apologies because as an early ’80s baby I know how much this hurts—these books are technically historical fiction. And no, this list isn’t comprehensive. I know some titles are missing.

Aya by Marguerite Abouet (Series)

Ivory Coast, 1978. Family and friends gather at Aya’s house every evening to watch the country’s first television ad campaign promoting the fortifying effects of Solibra, “the strong man’s beer.” It’s a golden time, and the nation, too—an oasis of affluence and stability in West Africa—seems fueled by something wondrous.

Who’s to know that the Ivorian miracle is nearing its end? In the sun-warmed streets of working-class Yopougon, aka Yop City, holidays are around the corner, the open-air bars and discos are starting to fill up, and trouble of a different kind is about to raise eyebrows. At night, an empty table in the market square under the stars is all the privacy young lovers can hope for, and what happens there is soon everybody’s business.

Aya tells the story of its nineteen-year-old heroine, the studious and clear-sighted Aya, her easygoing friends Adjoua and Bintou, and their meddling relatives and neighbors. It’s a breezy and wryly funny account of the desire for joy and freedom, and of the simple pleasures and private troubles of everyday life in Yop City. An unpretentious and gently humorous story of an Africa we rarely see-spirited, hopeful, and resilient.

Be True To Me by Adele Griffin

How far is too far to go for love?

Jean: Could it be true? Instead of a summer playing handmaiden to Daphne, was I being delivered something entirely different—a summer in the spotlight? A summer starring Gil Burke and me?

Summer flings and sexy romances were Daphne’s territory. Not mine. I was the one you didn’t pick.

I swatted off my hope like a bumblebee, knowing it was already too late. I’d been deliriously stung.

Fritz: People always joked about summer romances because they didn’t last. Summer romances were made out of ice cream and cotton candy, intensely sweet before they melted into nothing. But I’d never thought of Gil as a summer thing.

Gil was my real love, my real first. We were outsiders together, we had each other, we didn’t care that we didn’t belong.

Bones of a Saint by Grant Farley (March 2)

Set in Northern California in the late ’70s, this timeless coming-of-age story examines the nature of evil, the art of storytelling, and the possibility of redemption.

Fifteen-year-old RJ Armante has never known a life outside his dead-end hometown of Arcangel, CA. The Blackjacks still rule as they have for generations, luring the poorest kids into their monopoly on petty crime. For years, they’ve left RJ alone…until now.

When the Blackjacks come knocking, they want RJ to prey upon an old loner. But RJ is at his breaking point. It’s not just about the gang who rules the town. It’s about Charley, his younger brother, who is disabled. It’s about Roxanne, the girl he can’t reach. It’s about the kids in his crew who have nothing to live for. If RJ is to resist, he must fight to free Arcangel of its past.

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous year 1977 in New York.

After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.

Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.

And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?

Gimme Everything You Got by Iva-Marie Palmer

It’s 1979—the age of roller skates and feathered bangs, of Charlie’s Angels and Saturday Night Fever—and Susan Klintock is a junior in high school with a lot of sexual fantasies…but not a lot of sexual experience. No boy, at least none she knows, has ever been worth taking a shot on.

That is, until Bobby McMann arrives.

Bobby is foxy, he’s charming—and he’s also the coach of the brand-new girls’ soccer team at school and totally, 100 percent, completely off limits. But Susan decides she’s going to try out for the team to get close to him anyway. And over the course of an eventful season, she discovers that what she wants might not be what she first expected when Bobby McMann walked in the door—and that figuring out who she is means taking risks, both on and off the pitch.

Girls Like Us by Randi Pink

Set in the summer of 1972, this moving YA historical novel is narrated by teen girls from different backgrounds with one thing in common: Each girl is dealing with pregnancy.

Four teenage girls. Four different stories. What they all have in common is that they’re dealing with unplanned pregnancies.

In rural Georgia, Izella is wise beyond her years, but burdened with the responsibility of her older sister, Ola, who has found out she’s pregnant. Their young neighbor, Missippi, is also pregnant, but doesn’t fully understand the extent of her predicament. When her father sends her to Chicago to give birth, she meets the final narrator, Susan, who is white and the daughter of an anti-choice senator.

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

For thirteen years, Ben Tomlin was an only child. But all that changes when his mother brings home Zan—an eight-day-old chimpanzee. Ben’s father, a renowned behavioral scientist, has uprooted the family to pursue his latest research project: a high-profile experiment to determine whether chimpanzees can acquire advanced language skills. Ben’s parents tell him to treat Zan like a little brother. Ben reluctantly agrees. At least now he’s not the only one his father’s going to scrutinize.

It isn’t long before Ben is Zan’s favorite, and Ben starts to see Zan as more.

Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins

When her father loses his job and leaves India to look for work in America, Asha Gupta, her older sister, Reet, and their mother must wait with Baba’s brother and his family, as well as their grandmother, in Calcutta. Uncle is welcoming, but in a country steeped in tradition, the three women must abide by his decisions. Asha knows this is temporary—just until Baba sends for them. But with scant savings and time passing, the tension builds: Ma, prone to spells of sadness, finds it hard to submit to her mother- and sister-in-law; Reet’s beauty attracts unwanted marriage proposals; and Asha’s promise to take care of Ma and Reet leads to impulsive behavior. What follows is a firestorm of rebuke—and secrets revealed! Asha’s only solace is her rooftop hideaway, where she pours her heart out in her diary, and where she begins a clandestine friendship with Jay Sen, the boy next door. Asha can hardly believe that she, and not Reet, is the object of Jay’s attention. Then news arrives about Baba…and Asha must make a choice that will change their lives forever.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled.


Check out more books set in the 1970s!

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