Around these parts, most of us can point to a moment time—and maybe a particular book—that turned us into book lovers. Many point to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or J.R.R. Tolkein, while time and circumstance made others Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys people. Same for writer Gabrielle Moss: "I learned to read from educator-approved picture books about poky puppies and purple crayons, but I learned to become a reader from Sweet Valley High."
Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction filters the Rosebuds of Moss's literary innocence through the bright lens of experience. The Baby-Sitters Club, Fear Street, Pony Pals, Flowers in the Attic, and hundreds more are lovingly, hilariously, and occasionally raunchily re-examined across six chapters: Friendship, Love, School, Family, Jobs, Terror, and Tragedy. Nostalgia can be a double-edged sword, but in this case, it's pure joy.
Here are several books highlighted in Paperback Crush, along with an excerpt from Moss's introduction to the book.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB!
Are you an adult with a full-time job who still dreams of switching places with your (nonexistent) identical twin? Are you a mature, sensible individual who cares about mature, sensible things like your 401(k) and gum health — but who also cares about those poor dopes who kept moving to Fear Street, even though it had a well-documented murder problem? Are you a loving, responsible parent who is only two cocktails away from shrieking, “Say hello to your friends, say hello to the peeeeeeeople who care”?
If you answered yes to any of these questions: Welcome!
This book is a place of understanding. A place where you can sit down, get comfortable, and talk about Claudia Kishi’s pumpkin earrings or that time Jessica Wakefield accidentally joined a cult while she was at the mall. Here you’re among friends.
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Dowling Hahn
We’re here to honor the young adult lit published after Judy Blume but before J. K. Rowling. These books often get a bad rap. People think of it as a time of superficial books about gossip, proms, and amnesia. But the YA novels that we hoarded from school book fairs taught us about female friendships, trusting ourselves, and speaking our minds—while also feeding us questionable lessons about what it means to be a woman and whose stories deserve to be told.
I know the nostalgic power of '80s and '90s young-adult lit firsthand. In the spring of 2016, I was in a major rut and decided there was only one way out: buying a crate of Sweet Valley High books on eBay. For the semi-reasonable price of $50, I could lose myself in the neon-tinted pop culture of my youth, with all its pointless cat-fights and ice-blue prom dresses.
I may have learned to read from educator-approved picture books about poky puppies and purple crayons, but I learned to become a reader from Sweet Valley High. In 1989, I begged my parents to buy me #32, The New Jessica, because I thought the girls on the cover had pretty hair. Little did I know that I’d be injecting the adventures of those pretty-haired Wakefield twins directly into my veins for the next four years.
Sweet Valley High 32: The New Jessica by Francine Pascal
Before Sweet Valley, I’d been a shy, unpopular dork. But after Sweet Valley, I was something much, much better: a shy, unpopular dork who could retreat into a pastel parallel universe.
There, everyone had friends, everyone was pretty, and everyone was special. My peers were stuck engaging with reality like morons, but with a trip to the library, I could become a California beauty queen, or an angsty teen living on a haunted street, or a clever babysitter loved by kids and adults alike.
I stopped reading tween lit in 1994, when I started middle school and became less interested in being elected prom queen and more interested in the prospect of burning down prom with my eerie telekinetic powers. But those books remained stuck in the back of my brain, and the slightest trigger — a geometric-print sweater, an attractive blonde teenager pitching a fit — brought back a rush of memories.
Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You by Barthe DeClements
I knew they lingered there for some reason. But I didn’t give myself permission to take a full-on journey into the past until that summer of existential dread. The books were a thirty-fourth birthday present to myself, and locking myself in my bedroom to devour a giant box of paperback novels from 1990 was a form of self-care that I thought would help me get my bearings. As I ripped through those books, I found more than nostalgia—though Jesus H. Wakefield, did I find nostalgia! I also found a record of my adolescent expectations—of the ideas about romance and womanhood and rebellion that had shaped me. I found the attitudes I’d end up embracing, and resisting, my entire life.
After that first box, I picked up more and more tween series until I had so many that I could no longer play off my behavior as a joke. I had contracted a compulsive need to buy books from the pre-Twilight era of teen literature, the days when no adult would be caught dead reading YA on the subway. I realized that I needed to share what I’d learned from rereading them and, more important, that I needed to justify spending so much money on Fear Street books instead of saving for a house.
NEATE1: NEATE to the Rescue by Debbi Chocolate
That’s the short version of how the book you are holding came to be. These are the stories that made us and, as I found out, the stories that can save us, even now. That alone makes them worth another look.
So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Jungle Prom to ruin.
The Face On The Milk Carton by Carolyn Cooney
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- Paperbacks from Hell: Abandon All Taste, Ye Who Enter Here
- This Emblem Leads You to Adventure! Revisiting the Hardy Boys
- Yeah, But the Book's Way Better: A Short Survey of Immemorable Movie Tie-Ins
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