Teen fic­tion’s last­ing im­pact

Why the genre has stuck with many women for years

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Books - By Dar­cel Rock­ett Chicago Tri­bune

Of all the books teens read dur­ing those for­ma­tive years — re­quired or for fun — some fade from mem­ory like bad fash­ion choices while oth­ers carve a niche that lasts a life­time.

In her lat­est book, “Pa­per­back Crush,” Gabrielle Moss, au­thor and life­style ed­i­tor at Bus­tle, takes read­ers down pop cul­ture mem­ory lane, ex­plor­ing the 1980s and ’90s pre­teen pa­per­back genre. Think “Sweet Val­ley High” or “The Sad­dle Club” or the “Wild­fire” ro­mance se­ries. She of­fers a re­searched and nos­tal­gic look back at what made the genre so suc­cess­ful, from cover art and fem­i­nist themes to fan fa­vorite au­thors and pub­lish­ers.

The Chicago Tri­bune talked to Moss about what book still gives her the hee­bie-jee­bies and why so many teen nov­els from those decades have stuck with her all these years. The fol­low­ing has been edited for length and clar­ity.

Q: Why write “Pa­per­back Crush” now?

Moss: “I think (the genre) had good and bad im­pacts, but I was just very fas­ci­nated by the idea of dig­ging a lit­tle more deeply into the im­pacts and how it shaped our gen­er­a­tion of women. We would con­sume these books in such mas­sive quan­ti­ties — and any­thing you con­sume in that large a quan­tity is go­ing to have an im­pact on you. They helped give us a way to safely think about and deal with is­sues we were just ex­plor­ing. I learned a lot about the idea of women hav­ing ca­reers from “The Babysit­ters

‘Pa­per­back Crush’

Club” be­cause I didn’t get a lot of that at home. I think they also im­pacted us neg­a­tively in a lot of ways — look­ing back on some of these books is kind of hor­rific in that ev­ery­one is skinny, rich, white and talk­ing about their nice cars.

Q: What book sticks out as hav­ing a big im­pact on women?

Moss: I have heard so much from so many grown women who are like, “I’m still trau­ma­tized and con­stantly think­ing about ‘The Girl in the Box’ by Ouida Sebestyen.” (Teenager Jackie McGee is kid­napped and locked an un­der­ground bunker with scant food or wa­ter. To pass the time, she writes let­ters to friends, fam­ily and the po­lice. We never learn her as­sailant’s mo­tive or iden­tity.)

It is a messed-up book. I had not seen it as a teenager, but read­ing it now (I’m 36) it was up­set­ting. But I think a lot of peo­ple were per­ma­nently af­fected by “The Face on the Milk Car­ton.” It def­i­nitely gave me a se­vere case of the hee­bie-jee­bies. (In the Caro­line Cooney novel, a teen girl finds out she was kid­napped as a young child, and the peo­ple she thinks of as her par­ents are not her bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents.)

I think a lot of teens go through that stage where they’re like, “I’m noth­ing like my par­ents. How can they be my par­ents?” I re­mem­ber read­ing that and think­ing: “What if they’re not?” They are — we have since proved that they are — but in that mo­ment in the cul­ture there was so much con­stant talk about kid­nap­pings. I re­mem­ber hav­ing a home fin­ger­print kit from our lo­cal po­lice sta­tion so just in case you got kid­napped, your par­ents would have your fin­ger­prints.

Q: Look­ing back, were par­ents let­ting teens read these books too early?

Moss: Kids can han­dle a lot. They’re so cu­ri­ous about the world and not just scared of that stuff, but they also have ques­tions. When I was a lit­tle kid and re­al­ized kid­nap­ping ex­isted, I was ter­ri­fied, but I was also like, “What is it? Why does it hap­pen?’” I think the re­ally dark “whys” — like “The Girl in the Box” — the kids who are drawn to it are usu­ally the ones that have a cu­rios­ity about that sub­ject. They have a lot of ques­tions and maybe their par­ents aren’t com­fort­able an­swer­ing those ques­tions, so I do think those books did pro­vide a ser­vice in that way by al­low­ing us to have our feel­ings and ask our ques­tions.

Were the an­swers to those ques­tions al­ways cor­rect? Prob­a­bly not. But I think it was a re­ally worth­while time to ask these ques­tions. … With the caveat of V.C. An­drews. I don’t think V.C. was an­swer­ing any im­por­tant ques­tions. I think most of us read her way too young. I don’t know what’s the right age to read V.C. An­drews — maybe age 30?

1. “The Reck­on­ing: A Novel” by John Gr­isham

Last week: 1

$29.95)

NON­FIC­TION

1. “Med­i­cal Medium Liver Res­cue: An­swers to Eczema, Pso­ri­a­sis, Di­a­betes, Strep, Acne, Gout, Bloat­ing, Gall­stones, Adrenal Stress, Fa­tigue, Fatty Liver, Weight Is­sues, SIBO & Au­toim­mune Dis­ease” by Anthony Wil­liam

Last week: —

$34.99) (Dou­ble­day, (Hay House,

2. “El­e­va­tion” by Stephen King

$19.95)

2. “Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Be­liev­ing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Be­come Who You Were Meant to Be” by Rachel Hol­lis

Last week: 2

3. “Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks” by Ina Garten

Last week: 1

4. “Beastie Boys Book” by Michael Di­a­mond and Adam Horovitz Last week: —

5. “Killing the SS: The Hunt for the Worst War Crim­i­nals in His­tory” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Du­gard Last week: 3

6. “Hind­sight: & All the Things I Can’t See in Front of Me” by Justin Tim­ber­lake

Last week: —

7. “Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Rul­ing Class Is Bring­ing Amer­ica to the Brink of Rev­o­lu­tion” by Tucker Carl­son Last week: 5

8. “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Con­ver­sa­tions. Whole Hearts.” by Brene Brown

Last week: 6

9. “The Mamba Men­tal­ity: How I Play” by Kobe Bryant Last week: 4

10. “Mag­no­lia Table: A Col­lec­tion of Recipes for Gath­er­ing” by Joanna Gaines

Last week: —

(Nel­son, $22.99) $35) De­sign, $40) (Ran­dom House, $28) (MCD, $35) Morrow, $29.99) (Clark­son Pot­ter, (Spiegel & Grau, $50) (Henry Holt, $30) (Harper (Free Press, $28) (Wil­liam

For the week ended Nov. 3, com­piled from data from in­de­pen­dent and chain book­stores, book whole­salers and in­de­pen­dent dis­trib­u­tors na­tion­wide.

— Pub­lish­ers Weekly

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