18 Young Adult Books Set In The 1980’s

Today’s post is sponsored by Susan Azim Boyer and Jasmine Zumideh Needs A Win!

Title Jasmine Zumideh Needs A Win
Author Susan Azim Boyer
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Publication Date November 1st 2022 by Wednesday Books
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A fresh spin on the cult-classic Election meets Darius The Great Is Not Okay in Jasmine Zumideh Needs A Win when an international incident crashes into a high school election, and Jasmine is caught between doing the right thing and chasing her dream.

It’s 1979, and Jasmine Zumideh is ready to get the heck out of her stale, Southern California suburb and into her dream school, NYU, where she’ll major in journalism and cover New York City’s exploding music scene.

There’s just one teeny problem: Due to a deadline snafu, she maaaaaaybe said she was Senior Class President-Elect on her application ― before the election takes place. But honestly, she’s running against Gerald Thomas, a rigid rule-follower whose platform includes reinstating a dress code ― there’s no way she can lose. And she better not, or she’ll never get into NYU.

But then, a real-life international incident turns the election upside down. Iran suddenly dominates the nightly news, and her opponent seizes the opportunity to stir up anti-Iranian hysteria at school and turn the electorate against her. Her brother, Ali, is no help. He’s become an outspoken advocate for Iran just as she’s trying to downplay her heritage.

Now, as the white lie she told snowballs into an avalanche, Jasmine is stuck between claiming her heritage or hiding it, standing by her outspoken brother or turning her back on him, winning the election or abandoning her dreams for good.

Told with biting insight and fierce humor, Susan Azim Boyer’s Jasmine Zumideh Needs A Win is a fresh, unforgettable story of one Iranian-American young woman’s experience navigating her identity, friendship, family, her future, and a budding romance, all set against life-changing historical events with present-day relevance.

As a teen, I was obsessed with reading about the decades and trends that preceded my birth in the late 80’s, a fascination I don’t think was unique to me given the current nostalgic popularity of TV series like Stranger Things! With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to start a new series of posts on Pop! Goes The Reader, each highlighting books set during a specific decade in the past. Break out your acid wash jeans, mix tapes and your Trapper Keeper to take some notes, because we’re kicking things off today with young adult books set in the 1980’s!

The publication dates listed below might be subject to change.



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The Lost Boys meets Wilder Girls in this supernatural feminist YA novel.

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.

But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough.





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From lauded writer David Valdes, a sharp and funny YA novel that’s Back To The Future with a twist, as a gay teen travels back to his parents’ era to save a closeted classmate’s life.

All Luis Gonzalez wants is to go to prom with his boyfriend, something his “progressive” school still doesn’t allow. Not after what happened with Chaz Wilson. But that was ages ago, when Luis’s parents were in high school; it would never happen today, right? He’s determined to find a way to give his LGBTQ friends the respect they deserve (while also not risking his chance to be prom king, just saying…).

When a hit on the head knocks him back in time to 1985 and he meets the doomed young Chaz himself, Luis concocts a new plan – he’s going to give this guy his first real kiss. Though it turns out a conservative school in the ’80s isn’t the safest place to be a gay kid. Especially with homophobes running the campus, including Gordo (aka Luis’s estranged father). Luis is in over his head, trying not to make things worse-and hoping he makes it back to present day at all.

In a story that’s fresh, intersectional, and wickedly funny, David Valdes introduces a big-mouthed, big-hearted queer character that readers won’t soon forget.





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Winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction! Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Ibi Zoboi, and Erika L. Sánchez, this gorgeously written and deeply moving novel is the YA debut from the award-winning author of Inside Out & Back Again.

In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms — and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country.

Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn’t know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her.

Hằng is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh. But when she realizes he doesn’t remember her, their family, or Việt Nam, her heart is crushed. Though the distance between them feels greater than ever, Hằng has come so far that she will do anything to bridge the gap.





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A riveting novel about secrecy, complicated friendships, and heartbreak, set against the iconic backdrop of the late 1980s.

Lizzy Swift is a senior in high school, emerging from her nerd chrysalis to become a social butterfly. She starts dating popular Matt Ashley, whom she’s been pining for since freshman year. She’s delighted when rebellious new girl Claire Reynolds introduces her to Center City Philadelphia — clubs, street life, and the eye-opening art scene.

As Lizzy begins to question her own long-held dreams, the changes in her life mirror the upheaval of a decade marked by a drug epidemic and the AIDS crisis. She’s no longer sure of her Ivy League ambition. While she has a special connection with Matt, something’s missing. And Claire carries around a mysterious sadness and talks about a breakup so bad she changed schools — but she won’t tell the whole story. Lizzy wants Claire to confide in her, even as she keeps her own embarrassing secrets.

Before too long, the heady thrill of her new life starts to crumble under insecurities and deceptions. When the truth emerges from the wreckage, will it be too late for Lizzy, Claire, and Matt to save their love and friendships?

Tell Me No Lies, a companion to the acclaimed Be True To Me, is a novel of unflinching emotional honesty about secrecy, lies, love, and identity.





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It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart — and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.

This is a bighearted, sprawling epic about friendship and love and the revolutionary act of living life to the fullest in the face of impossible odds.





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Stranger Things meets One Of Us Is Lying in Devon Taylor’s creepy paranormal mystery about four friends who find themselves hunted by a malevolent presence in their sleepy hometown.

It knows your fear…

Summer, 1989. Four best friends ― Gabe, Kimberly, Charlie, and Sonya ― are preparing for their last summer together before senior year, after which they’ll all be splitting up to start college in different parts of the country. They make a promise to always find their way back to each other, no matter how far away from their sleepy Pennsylvania hometown they get.

But their plans are destroyed when a plane crashes right on top of their favorite hangout outside of town ― and right on top of them.

In the catastrophic aftermath of the incident, Gabe, Sonya and Charlie are plagued by eerie visions and messages from an unknown watcher. They soon realize that the plane crash was no accident, and now they are being hunted by a sinister presence. And everyone is still searching for Kimberly, who has been missing ever since Gabe saw somebody wearing a gas mask carry her out of the woods the day the sky fell down on them…





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A young-adult thriller ricocheting between the bigotry of the past and present as teens unravel their parents’ secrets. Perfect for fans of One Of Us Is Lying.

Four teens have dug up the time capsule that their parents buried in 1986 and never bothered to recover. But in addition to the expected ephemera of mixtapes, Walkmans, photographs, letters, toys, and assorted junk, Elayah, Liam, Marcie, and Jorja discover something sinister: a hunting knife stained with blood and wrapped with a note. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to kill anyone.”

As the action dramatically alternates between the present day and 1986, the mystery unfolds and the sins of the past echo into today. The teens haven’t just unearthed a time capsule: they’ve also dug up pain and secrets that someone – maybe one of their own parents – is willing to kill for.





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A stirring book from Eric Gansworth, author of If I Ever Get Out Of Here, that speaks the truth on race, relationships, and rock from two unforgettable perspectives.

Carson Mastick is entering his senior year of high school and desperate to make his mark, on the reservation and off. A rock band – and winning Battle of the Bands – is his best shot. But things keep getting in the way. Small matters like the lack of an actual band, or his brother getting shot by the racist owner of a local restaurant.

Maggi Bokoni has just moved back to the reservation with her family. She’s dying to stop making the same traditional artwork her family sells to tourists (conceptual stuff is cooler), stop feeling out of place in her new (old) home, and stop being treated like a child. She might like to fall in love for the first time too.

Carson and Maggi – along with their friend Lewis – will navigate loud protests, even louder music, and first love in this stirring novel about coming together in a world defined by difference.





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An epic story of love and betrayal set against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square protests.

In Heiress Apparently, Gemma Huang’s big acting break led her to Beijing, where she uncovered an incredible family secret. This second novel in the Daughters of the Dynasty series delves further into Gemma’s complex and storied legacy, moving back one generation to tell the story of Gemma’s mother, Lei, as she finds love against the backdrop of 1980s China and the Tiananmen Square protests and makes a difficult decision that forever alters the course of her life.





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It’s the summer of 1982, and for Scott and Cath, everything is about to change.

Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends for most of their lives. Now they’ve graduated high school, and Cath is off to college while Scott stays at home trying to get his band off the ground. Neither of them realized that their first year after high school would be so hard.

Fortunately, Scott and Cath still have each other, and it’s through their letters that they survive heartache, annoying roommates, family dramas, and the pressure of figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they’ve ever wanted to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should think about being more than friends? One thing is clear, Change is an inescapable part of growing up, and we share unbreakable bonds with the friends who help us navigate it.

This funny, extraordinary, and deeply moving book ― set to an awesome ’80s soundtrack ― captures all the beautiful confusion and emotional intensity we find on the verge of adulthood…and first love.





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A gut-wrenching, startling historical thriller about communist Romania and the citizen spy network that devastated a nation, from the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of Salt To The Sea and Between Shades of Gray.

Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.

Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves — or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys is back with a historical thriller that examines the little-known history of a nation defined by silence, pain, and the unwavering conviction of the human spirit.





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From “the queen of heartbreaking prose” (Paste) Helene Dunbar, We Are Lost and Found is a young adult realistic fiction novel in the vein of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower about three friends coming-of-age against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s.

Michael is content to live in the shadow of his best friends, James and Becky. Plus, his brother, Connor, has already been kicked out of the house for being gay and laying low seems to be Michael’s only chance at avoiding the same fate.

To pass the time before graduation, Michael hangs out at The Echo where he can dance and forget about his father’s angry words, the pressures of school, and the looming threat of AIDS, a disease that everyone is talking about, but no one understands.

Then he meets Gabriel, a boy who actually sees him. A boy who, unlike seemingly everyone else in New York City, is interested in him and not James. And Michael has to decide what he’s willing to risk to be himself.





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Arkansas, 1984: The town of Griffin Flat is known for almost nothing other than its nuclear missile silos. MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction — is a fear every local lives with and tries to ignore. Unfortunately that’s impossible now that film moguls have picked Griffin Flat as the location for a new nuclear holocaust movie, aptly titled The Eve of Destruction.

When sixteen-year-old Laura Ratliff wins a walk-on role (with a plus-one!) thanks to a radio call-in contest, she is more relieved than excited. Mingling with Hollywood stars on the set of a phony nuclear war is a perfect distraction from being the only child in her real nuclear family — which has also been annihilated. Her parents are divorced, and her mother has recently remarried. Her father, an officer in the Strategic Air Command, is absent…except when he phones at odd hours to hint at an impending catastrophe. But isn’t that his job?

Laura’s only real friend is her new stepbrother, Terrence. She picks him as her plus-one for the film shoot, enraging her fair-weather friends. But their anger is nothing compared to what happens on set after the scripted nuclear explosion. Because nobody seems to know if a real nuclear bomb has detonated or not.





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From the author of Moxie comes a stunning novel told in three voices about the lies families tell to survive.

Every year, summer begins when the Callahans arrive on Mariposa Island. That’s when Elena Finney gets to escape her unstable, controlling mother by babysitting for their two children. And the summer of 1986 promises to be extra special when she meets J.C., the new boy in town, whose kisses make Elena feel like she’s been transported to a new world.

Joaquin Finney can’t imagine why anyone would want to come to Mariposa Island. He just graduated from high school and dreams about going to California to find his father and escape his mother’s manipulation.

The Liars of Mariposa Island follows siblings Elena and Joaquin, with flashbacks to their mother’s experience as a teenage refugee fleeing the Cuban revolution.

Jennifer Mathieu’s multilayered novel explores the nature of secrets, lies, and fierce, destructive love.





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The Silence of the Lambs meets Sadie in this riveting psychological thriller about two teenagers teaming up with the FBI to track down juvenile serial killers.

In 1982, two teenagers — serial killer survivor Emma Lewis and US Marshal candidate Travis Bell — are recruited by the FBI to interview convicted juvenile killers and provide insight and advice on cold cases. From the start, Emma and Travis develop a quick friendship, gaining information from juvenile murderers that even the FBI can’t crack. But when the team is called in to give advice on an active case — a serial killer who exclusively hunts teenagers — things begin to unravel. Working against the clock, they must turn to one of the country’s most notorious incarcerated murderers for help: teenage sociopath Simon Gutmunsson.

Despite Travis’s objections, Emma becomes the conduit between Simon and the FBI team. But while Simon seems to be giving them the information they need to save lives, he’s an expert manipulator playing a very long game…and he has his sights set on Emma.

Captivating, harrowing, and chilling, None Shall Sleep is an all-too-timely exploration of not only the monsters that live among us, but also the monsters that live inside us.





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When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship — one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to ‘fix’ her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self — even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!

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