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Young Adult Fiction Set in the 1960s

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Historical fiction can transport readers back to many different eras. Here are 14 young adult books that take readers back to the 1960s, a time when the world was going through major upheavals in pop culture, race relations, and attitudes towards war and government.
 

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

Before We Were Free book cover

By 1960, most of Anita de la Torre’s relatives already left the Dominican Republic for the United States, but she didn’t know why. Anita soon learns that her family is part of an underground movement against General Trujillo, the dictator who rules their country, and that all of their lives are in danger.
 

Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe

Ashe doesn’t know which is worse, the possibility of being drafted to fight in Vietnam or the way his family is falling apart. This novel, written as a series of haiku poems, documents the life of an American teenager through the tumultuous year of 1968.

 

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Watsons Go to Birmingham book cover

Byron was officially a teenage juvenile delinquent. After getting into trouble one too many times, there was only one solution: Grandma would get him to shape up. But Grandma was in Birmingham, Alabama, which meant the Watsons had a long trip ahead of them.

 

What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn

Jenny and her brother Tom are moving to England to go to school, but for different reasons. Jenny will be there to spend a semester abroad, and Tom will be there because their parents want to protect him from the war in Vietnam. Starting over in a new place means Jenny can reinvent herself, but that’s going to mean telling a few lies.

 

My Beautiful Hippie by Janet Nichols Lynch

My Beautiful Hippie book cover

Joanne is 15 years old during the Summer of Love, and her San Francisco neighborhood has been transformed into something new. Hippies, freaks, and flower children are everywhere, and one of them just gave Joanne a strand of love beads and told her she was beautiful.

 

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Perry just graduated from high school in Harlem. When he enlisted in the Army after his college plans fell through, he never imagined that he’d get assigned to active duty; and he definitely didn’t imagine he’d be sent to Vietnam, or experience the horrors of war from the front lines.

 

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Things They Carried book cover

What was it really like to be an American soldier in the Vietnam War? This collection of stories and essays shows the war from many different perspectives, and it’s a powerful, emotional, and tragic experience.

 

The Year of Our Revolution : New and Selected Stories and Poems by Judith Ortiz Cofer

This collection of stories and poems captures the spirit of life in the barrio in the 1960s. Young people felt torn between being Hispanic and American, rebelled against their parents, and saw how events like the Vietnam War and President Kennedy’s assassination changed the world around them.

 

Half in Love With Death by Emily Ross

Half in Love With Death book cover

When Caroline watched her older sister Jess climb out the window and go out into the night, she had no idea it would be the last time they’d see each other. Caroline thought Jess was going to meet her boyfriend Tony, but he doesn't know her whereabouts either. Then Tony invites Caroline to go with him to California, to try to find her sister among all the flower children who are gathering there.

 

Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan

For six high school students growing up in Los Angeles in 1965, war, feminism, riots, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll are changing their lives. Through a series of poems, the teens share their thoughts about everything that’s going on in the world around them.

 

Fallout by Todd Strasser

Fallout book cover

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Americans were terrified about being the target of a nuclear bomb. Luckily, that crisis was averted and the bomb didn’t fall… but what would have happened if it did? This is the story of one family that built a bomb shelter and the neighbors who wanted to get in.

 

Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash

When Michael and Cora meet for the first time at the Woodstock Festival, it changes both of their lives. It will be three days of peace and music, plus so much more.

 

Sekret by Lindsay Smith

Sekret book cover

Yulia's father always told her an empty mind is a safe mind, but she didn't know why. When she develops an unusual psychic ability, she wonders if there is any connection to that advice from her father. It isn't until the KGB kidnaps her family and forces Yulia to join a team of psychics to spy on the Americans that she really understands just how important her mind is, and how she can never really be safe again.

 

I'm Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil

JJ Green has grown up in a family of lawyers, and that’s the direction everyone expects her life to go. But she loves writing songs, and secretly applies for a summer internship in the Brill Building, where people are writing for a new musical genre called rock 'n' roll. JJ gets the job, which presents even more of a problem: Her family is convinced the music industry is filled with sleazy lowlifes, including her Uncle Bernie, who also works in the Brill Building.  

 

To learn more about the 1960s, be sure to visit the exhibit You Say You Want a Revolution: Remembering the 60s at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Also, check out all of the 1960s-themed exhibits and programs taking place throughout the NYPL.  And if you’re stopping by the Kingsbridge Library, check out our Peace, Love & Revolution display in the New Books section!

Kingsbridge Library 1960s Book Display

 

 

 

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