Paperback Crush: Exploring the Young Adult Novels of My Youth

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Over the holiday break I took my teenage daughter on a fun surprise trip to see one of her favorite musical artists, Lindsey Stirling. We had a blast at the show, and the next morning we made sure to visit one of my favorite independent bookstores, Malaprop’s, for a little quality booknerd time. I was happily wandering up and down the aisles when a book on an endcap caught my eye. It was titled “Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of 80s and 90s Teen Fiction.”

It was like a spotlight was shining on it. Slowly, I reached for the book and began flipping through the pages. I saw images of book covers I hadn’t seen in years—books that once graced my bookshelves and lay dog-eared on the floor of my bedroom and tucked away in my backpack. Or led me to Waldenbooks on a mission to get the next book in the Sweet Valley High series.

This was, of course, a book should have written, if I had known that there was such a need. After all, I, like the author, Gabrielle Moss, went through a phase a few years ago where I began collecting the paperback young adult novels of my youth that found at thrift stores. The author is a features editor at Bustle and has written for several national magazines. She divided the book into seven different sections: Love, Friends, Family, School, Jobs, Danger, and my personal favorite, Terror. I haven’t read the book cover to cover yet (the way it’s designed you don’t have to) but man, have I had a blast flipping through the different sections. Let’s see if any of you remember the following:

  • Forever . . . described as “a moving story of the end of innocence” by Judy Blume (Boy, did I learn a lot from this one!)
  • Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High Series (I need to go back and re-read some of these because they sound like they were the modern-day equivalent of shows like “Gossip Girl)
  • The Babysitters Club By Ann M. Martin (I was so happy when my daughter read these a few years ago).
  • The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
  • The Fear Street Series by R.L. Stine
  • The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

And so on, and so on. I’m having the best time revisiting these old books and the stories behind them. I’ve also come to a few epiphanies. First: as an aspiring young adult novelist, I’m not interested in writing straight romance for teens. I do love romance between characters, but I also want there to be more to the story. What is standing in the way of true love? (Hint: in my stories, it’s usually a creepy character waiting off in the wings). And second, I need to amp up the suspense in my own writing. Teen readers are interested in how the mind works, what makes people tick, and what causes a character to have homicidal tendencies. I know this is true or I wouldn’t have read as many Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan novels in my youth. And finally, young readers are usually not looking for light-hearted material. They want stories they can read at night by the light of their Kindles, ghosts that they can see cross over, mythological characters they can decipher or murders they can try and solve by the end of the book.

I’m so glad I stumbled upon this book to help me realize these things and push me forward in my own writing. After having a brainstorming, mind-mapping session this week about my latest young adult novel, I came away with a better sense of what the crux is: A Hero’s Journey. With a little angst and stalking thrown in. Because don’t we all want to be a hero (or have one save us) at the end of the day?

Renee, age 17
Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. She is currently seeking representation for her contemporary young adult novel, Between. Visit her website at


Margo Dill said...

I think I need this book too! I think I owned every Sweet Valley High book there is. And read Forever--man, I think teens today would laugh at us if they learned that FOREVER was our big taboo YA book. :) Anyway, I loved your insights. Thanks for sharing this resource with us!

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo said...

I need this book! Like Margo, I was addicted to Sweet Valley High and pretty much owned all of them. I also loved Christopher Pike. For Christmas, my daughter received the R.L. Stine Masterclass and we've been watching it together. It's geared toward beginning writers but is still so full of gems, and he's wonderfully funny. Good luck on your YA book, Renee!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I'm too old for Sweet Valley High (Nancy Drew mysteries did it for me) but I do know Cooney's "Face on the Milk Carton" book (riveting).

However, the reason for my comment is I'm pi$$ed. You. Look. The. Same. As. You. Did. When. You. Were. 17.

HITH do you do it?

Nicole Pyles said...

WHAT A SMALL WORLD!!! I JUST READ The DOLLHOUSE MURDERS LAST YEAR!! And in fact, it ended up on my 2018 top list!

And The Face on the Milk Carton was also very good and a worthwhile TV movie.

I think I know what I'll be reading next :)

Renee Roberson said...

Yes, ladies, you all need this book! It's great for fans, writers, English and Language Arts teachers, etc. I can't wait to dig in deeper and read all the interviews with the authors in there.

Margo, did you also read the Sweet Valley middle school series? I think it was called Sweet Valley Twins. Francine Pascal made some money off all of us--and I think she had ghostwriters for most of the series! In "Paperback Crush" they showed a whole bunch of other teen YA romances she actually wrote first.

Elizabeth, the R.L. Stine Masterclass sounds awesome. What a great gift for your daughter! I would sit in on that one, too. That man is so incredibly prolific it's crazy!

Sioux, I wish I looked the same. I wish I had that same gorgeous hair color and I didn't have to write salon color visits into every month's budget! I am lucky, but I was recently visiting with my mom who is 63 and her skin still looks fantastic. I'm blessed with some good genes, I think!

Nicole, now I want to go back and read "The Dollhouse Murders." I'm sure I read it back in the 80s but I can't remember the whole plot! I'm off to check off your blog post now.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top