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4 Great YA Books Set in the 1950s

Tirzah Price

Senior Contributing Editor

Most of Tirzah Price's life decisions have been motivated by a desire to read as many books as humanly possible. Tirzah holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has worked as an independent bookseller and librarian. She’s also the author of the Jane Austen Murder Mysteries, published by HarperTeen, and Bibliologist at TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations. Follow her on Twitter @TirzahPrice.

Flatiron Books, publisher of Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean.

An irresistible story about an ordinary Japanese-American girl who discovers that her father is the Crown Prince of Japan! Which means outspoken, irreverent Izumi Tanaka is literally a princess! In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan and finds herself caught between worlds—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will she crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?

I think that the 1950s were such a fascinating time in U.S. history — it wasn’t all milkshakes and summer loving, like Grease might lead us to believe. It was a time of enormous social change, and while World War II might have been over, the Cold War was just beginning. Women didn’t want to give up the freedoms they’d earned a decade earlier, and the American public was also becoming fascinated with the darker sides of human nature and society. These YA books about the 1950s cover a range of topics and issues. I find them so fascinating, and I hope you do, too!

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Lily has grown up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and her entire life seems to be contained in that neighborhood. But when a chance encounter with a white classmate, Kath, leads her to sneak out and visit the Telegraph Club, mere blocks away, Lily’s world is opened as she discovers an entire community of women who cross dress and love other women. But it’s 1953, and between racism and the Red Scare, it’s not easy being Chinese American or queer — and Lily has to decide if she is brave enough to live her truth.

Mazie by Melanie Crowder

Mazie has grown up in Nebraska, where she has no hope of achieving her dreams on the stage…until a chance opportunity to go to New York City for six weeks lands in her lap, and Mazie jumps at it, even though she breaks some hearts in the process. But New York City is a dizzying, terrifying whirlwind, and as Mazie goes from audition to audition without much luck, she learns about the true cost of achieving her dreams of Broadway fame, and must decide what she’s willing to risk.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

This is a YA book from a few years back that has become one of my favorites. It’s 1950, and Josie lives in the French Quarter. Her mother works in a brothel, and Josie has grown up under the watchful eye of Willie Woodley, the brothel’s madam, who intends to make Josie her successor. But Josie wants to attend college, and as she concocts a plan to get out, a man is found murdered. His connection to Josie’s mother threatens her carefully laid plans of escape, and force her to investigate the truth.

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

Set in 1958, this novel follows Michael, an aspiring journalist and son of the local sheriff. When a gruesome serial killer strikes in his hometown, leaving a house full of bodies drained of blood and a sole suspect, a 15-year-old girl named Marie, Michael is stunned. He’s even more shocked when Marie refuses to tell anyone what happened…except Michael. Now Michael must listen to Marie’s confession, but the story only raises more questions as Michael tries to make sense of what really happened. This book sounds like it’s evocative of In Cold Blood, with with Blake’s signature twists.

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