Wednesday, July 18, 2018

YA Pioneers: Lael Littke

YA may have blown up over the past decade, but it used to be a small section of the bookstore.  In the early nineties, it consisted mostly of "teen thrillers," which mostly featured dark mysteries and serial killers, although there was some supernatural fare as well.  The authors of those books were ahead of their time and built an audience in teenagers, and paved the way for the YA that is beloved by so many today.

YA Pioneers

Lael Littke was born on December 2, 1929, and worked secretarial jobs between 1952 and 1963.  She was Mormon, attending The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Denver, Colorado, where she would meet her husband, before moving to New York, and finally to California to settle down with their daughter.  Littke began her education by diving into journalism, but changed her focus, majoring in English and taking every writing course available at Utah State University (and eventually City College of New York).

While in New York, she began to sell stories for adults to magazines like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Relief Society Magazine and Ladies' Home Journal.  After moving to Pasadena, she began to write for a younger audience and sold stories to Seventeen Magazine, realizing that's where her passion lied.  Proclaiming herself "the most rejected author in Southern California," Littke was eventually published and now has over forty novels in print, aside from her numerous short stories.  She would even go on to teach at Pasadena City College and University of California, Los Angeles.

Littke wrote several novels before breaking in to the teen thriller scene.  She even released some teen books, like Trish for President (1984) and Loydene in Love (1986), mostly romances, but young reader books like Cave-In! (1981), about a girl who tries to help her brother and friends lost in a cave, hinted at what was to come from the author.

It was in 1989 that Lael Littke had her breakthrough teen thriller Prom Dress published by Scholastic through their "Point Horror" line (a line of books known for publishing the first book by R.L. Stine, as well as many prominent teen authors of the day).  In 1991, she would also contribute the story "Lucinda" to the Point Horror anthology Thirteen: 13 Tales of Horror.

In 1991, Littke began to focus on middle grade audiences.  Blue Skye would earn her an award for a notable work of fiction Children's Literature Award from the Southern California Council, and she would begin a middle grade series the following year, The Bee Theres.  The series would run for seven books, and would feature mystery and drama surrounding a church group that would go on to involve ghosts, mummies and mysterious disappearances, the sort of things her contemporaries were writing about in the YA realm.

The Watcher, published in 1994, saw Littke's return to Point Horror, and would also signal her last work through the line.  In 1997, The Watcher would be included in Point Horror Collection #10, alongside books by R.L. Stine and Sinclair Smith.

Littke published her next teen thriller, Haunted Sister, through Henry Holt in 1998, and would continue with the publisher with the release of Lake of Secrets four years later.  Lake of Secrets would be included in the New York Public Library's Best Books for the Teen Age in 2003.

Lael Littke released a handful of books for teens after that, including Searching for Selena and Keepers of Blackbird Hill, but it was clear that the thriller era was behind her.  I know I will fondly remember the iconic Prom Dress and her involvement with Point Horror as the highlight of quite an impressive career for the "most rejected author of Southern California."

Lael Littke YA titles

Trish for President (1984)
Loydene in Love (1986)
Where the Creeks Meet (1987)
Shanny on Her Own (1988)
Prom Dress (1989)
The Watcher (1994)
Haunted Sister (1998)
Lake of Secrets (2002)
Searching for Selena (2003)
Keepers of Blackbird Hill (2011)

Book synopsis samples:

Prom Dress

"It's a dress to die for...

"The pretty lace dress that Robin finds in her mysterious employer's attic does not look deadly; it looks perfect for the prom. Robin cannot resist the power the dress holds over her an decides to 'borrow' it to wear to prom. But the dress has a horrifying secret and lures innocent, unsuspecting girls into an evil and terrifying nightmare."

The Watcher

"Same time, same deadly channel...

Catherine Belmont imagines herself as Cassandra Bly, the sexy star of her favorite soap opera, and eerily, her life begins to slowly resemble Cassandra's until Catherine begins to think she is losing her mind."

Haunted Sister

"How can you have a ghost story without a ghost? What if the ghost is only in your head? How would you know that you aren't losing your mind?

By medical standards, sixteen-year-old Janine Palmer dies on the day of her automobile accident. When her spirit travels to the "other side," however, she is told that it isn't her time to die, and is sent back to live out her life. When she awakens from her coma, though, she discovers that she hasn't come back alone. There is someone else inside her mind. The voice in Janine's head claims to be the ghost of Lenore, Janine's twin sister, who drowned twelve years earlier. Lenore blames her own death on Janine and is determined to live again in her sister's body.

Now the two girls must vie for one body. Can Janine be sure that her twin is really inside her, or is she simply going crazy? "

Lake of Secrets

"Can Carlene really be remembering things from a past life?

Strange, fragmented memories have been haunting Carlene since she and her mother came to Lake Isadora. The vivid recollections don't seem to relate to anything in Carlene's own past. Until now, she hadn't even seen the place where Keith, the brother she never knew, disappeared during a storm fifteen years ago. Some think he drowned, but his mother thinks he was kidnapped and is still alive somewhere. She is sure the little boy's clothes that have just been found near the lake belonged to her son.

Carlene knows that her bizarre memories have something to do with Keith. They might even help her discover the truth about what happened the day he disappeared. But she can't possibly be remembering things that happened before she was born-unless the memories are from a past life."

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