For one of my library classes (Children’s/YA Literature), we needed to write a reflection of ourselves as teen readers. Here’s mine:
I’m having a hard time remembering what I read as a teen. I know I did all my reading for school very conscientiously. For a while I was obsessed with Anna Karenina; I thought Anna’s suicide was the most romantic gesture ever. My AP English teacher let us choose an author to study for the last quarter, and I read three Jane Austen novels, which I still enjoy today. Other than school reading, I read a combination of light teenage series books, sad novels, adult author binges, and ‘forbidden’ books.
I read a lot of fluff, the equivalent of the soap operas I watched faithfully in high school. I read all the Sweet Valley High books by Francine Pascal (plus some ghostwriters). Jessica and Elizabeth were fascinating to me; they were identical twins but so different. In retrospect, the characters were fairly stereotypical, but at the time I identified with sweet Elizabeth and admired/was horrified by Jessica. I know there are Sweet Valley Twins books for younger children; I’m sure I would’ve loved those, too.
Sad/emotional books really caught my eye too. Starting with Bridge to Terabithia, I was drawn to the stories where a sibling, parent, or friend dies, or the main character is a terrible situation. I remember A Summer to Die (Lois Lowry), The Pinballs (Betsy Byars), and Too Young to Die (Lurlene McDaniel). I couldn’t relate to those books; nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened to me. But I got to see what it was like to be those characters, from a safe distance of course.
Like a lot of teens and adults, I latched onto certain authors and read most everything they wrote. I worked as a public library page in high school, doing the adult shelving, and I got to see everything that went out and in. (I also may—or may not—have read on the job.) I read through Danielle Steel, Jackie Collins, Sue Grafton, Nancy Thayer, and other authors I can’t remember. The books gave me a sense of what everyday adult life was like, and what kinds of issues adults faced. Not sure how realistic this education was, though, considering Steel and Collins!
I will admit to the occasional dirty reading. I began with the fairly innocent Judy Blume books (Margaret gets her period! Deenie has a special place that she touches! Katherine has sex for the first time!) They seem so tame now compared to so many YA books, but at the time I felt like I was reading something exciting and forbidden. Then there was The Joy of Sex, occasionally found on the shelves of houses where I babysat; I studied those line drawings and tried to make sense of it all. I remember discovering Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty books. Not only were they erotic novels (which was amazing in itself, because I didn’t know those existed!), but they were chock full of BDSM (an early Fifty Shades, but with princes and princesses). I sure got an education with those books! You can bet those books were well-hidden.
When I look back now, I wish I’d had a specifically Young Adult section like we have at libraries now. We had some older books in the children’s room, and some books in the adult sections with teen characters. But if there were a YA section then, I’d have been glued to it. I’m glued to it as an adult anyway.