Review for "Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction" by Gabrielle Moss (2018) Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Nancy Drew. The Wakefield twins. The Babysitters Club. Christopher Pike. R. L. Stine. The Girls of Canby Hall.
Don’t forget the series. Always in an endless parade of series, people…
If you know any of the names above, you were an 80’s/90’s reader girly like me and read all things mass market, pop teen fiction. My favorite activity at the local mall (after copping a slice of Sbarro’s pizza) was going to Waldenbooks, finding a nice spot on the floor and deciding which paperback I was going to buy with my babysitting money to read that week. I collected these books and wouldn’t let anyone touch them, especially my baby sister at the time (who used to rip up books, yikes!).
“Paperback Crush” is a time machine back to that period, a dive into the history of teen fiction from the late 60s to the early 00’s. The format is excellent and easy to follow, there are tons of pictures of the books I definitely read and remembered. There’s also interviews with some of the authors who changed the game with more diverse characters and situations that teens were reading about. The book is split into categories that were also very interesting: love/sex, friendships, family, teen jobs/sleuthing, paranormal, danger, and so on. It’s a pretty broad overview of the development of the genre, complete with a beautiful gem of nostalgia.
This book also brought me back mentally to a time when much of the world to me was very “safe”–suburban, heterogeneous, heteronormative–and of course, White. Of course I still read the books regardless, but it took me back to the very real feeling I got (and still get) often as a Black girl reader: where was I? Why does no one in this entire book look like me? Sure there were characters of color here and there (i.e., Jessie and Claudia in the Babysitters Club), but they were generally ‘otherized’–mystical tokens in a sea of whiteness. This book barely scratches the surface of the deeper discussions of race, class, and representation in literature, which I wish had taken up a larger portion of the book.
I realize now that I owe a tremendous debt to pop teen fiction. Its where I learned not only how to read, but how to analyze, criticize, roll my eyes and yell out “oh please” when a character did something stupid. It made me the reader I am today.
Definitely get this one.