Saturday, February 22, 2020

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss

When I was in second grade, I announced to my mother that I had tried and succeeded with my first chapter book and was ready for more. To my delighted seven-year-old self's surprise, she went up into our attic and came down with a gigantic box filled with all kinds of young adult pulps she had gotten at a garage sale and saved for just this moment. Digging through that gigantic box was a moment of such joy that hasn't really been repeated. In that box were tons of Sweet Valley Kids, Baby-Sitters' Little Sister, Sleepover Friends, Sweet Valley Twins, Baby-Sitters' Club, and standalones like SANTA PAWS, VERONICA KNOWS BEST, WENDY AND THE BULLIES, and BUMMER SUMMER. I glutted myself on those titles and many more, drawn as much to the pastel covers as I was to the stories, and fascinated by their dramatic and luxurious portrayals of what I, a precocious and socially inept elementary school child, imagined middle school and high school would be like. Surely, I thought, this must be the gospel.

I've been stalking PAPERBACK CRUSH for a while and soon as I saw it, I knew I had to buy it. This is the third "nostalgic" genre retrospective I've read. The first was BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS, because romance is my most recent and passionate love. The second was PAPERBACKS FROM HELL because horror was my gateway into trashy adult fiction (I started reading 80s pulps by the bucketful starting when I was about thirteen). But these pulpy YA books were my childhood crush, the books that helped make me into the voracious reader I am today. I'm kind of shocked that the ratings for this are so low and I can't help but wonder if that's because the vast majority of the books in here are age-targeted (primarily geared towards people who grew up in the 80s and 90s) and feature books that were written by women. People scoff at millennials and they scoff at women even more, and part of me wonders if the ratings are due to the fact that critics tend to be more critical of things made for and consumed by women because "feminine" things are deemed inherently frivolous.

For me, personally, PAPERBACK CRUSH was a dream come true. I loved Gabrielle Moss's sense of humor and how clearly passionate she was about this project (I am a fan of passion projects). I had heard of and read many of these books, some as a child, others later in love, but there were many more that were new to me, and I found myself continuously running to Goodreads to add more books as I read. Did you know that a bunch of them are actually on Kindle Unlimited? No? Well, now you do. Honestly, my favorite sections were the ones about trashy series block-busters like Sweet Valley and Baby-Sitters', but I also liked the section that was devoted to Scholastic's Point Horror imprint (which I am obsessed with and helped inspire many of the works I write today). I liked how the sections were broken down and how the author went out of her way to be inclusive to books-- some of them seemingly very hard to find-- including a series set at a Jewish Orthodox school that seems to be out of print now and very expensive, a number of early LGBT+ books that predate even ANNIE ON MY MIND, and books prominently featuring characters of color, like the NEATE series.

I think a good retrospective not only reintroduces you to thinks you were familiar with and loved (or despised), but also helps you discover something new. On this, PAPERBACK CRUSH delivered beautifully. I asked my mom if she remembered that box of books and she said yes, because she had read so many articles about how reading is connected with academic success and college proficiency later in life, and so she had always made it a point to make sure that I had as many books as I wanted. PAPERBACK CRUSH stirred up many fond memories like that, and I can't sing its praises enough. I hope she writes a follow-up. I would happily read a book that focused solely on the Point Horror books or that went book-by-book dissecting every ridiculous trope in the Sweet Valley universe.

5 out of 5 stars

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