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

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A hilarious and nostalgic trip through the history of paperback pre-teen series of the '80s and '90s. Every twenty- or thirty-something woman knows these books. The pink covers, the flimsy paper, the zillion volumes in the series that kept you reading for your entire adolescence. Spurred by the commercial success of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club, these were A hilarious and nostalgic trip through the history of paperback pre-teen series of the '80s and '90s. Every twenty- or thirty-something woman knows these books. The pink covers, the flimsy paper, the zillion volumes in the series that kept you reading for your entire adolescence. Spurred by the commercial success of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club, these were not the serious-issue YA novels of the 1970s, nor were they the blockbuster books of the Harry Potter and Twilight ilk. They were cheap, short, and utterly beloved. PAPERBACK CRUSH dives in deep to this golden age with affection, history, and a little bit of snark. Readers will discover (and fondly remember) girl-centric series on everything from correspondence (Pen Pals and Dear Diary) to sports (The Pink Parrots, Cheerleaders, and The Gymnasts) to a newspaper at an all-girls Orthodox Jewish middle school (The B.Y. Times) to a literal teen angel (Teen Angels: Heaven Can Wait, where an enterprising guardian angel named Cisco has to earn her wings “by helping the world’s sexist rock star.”) Some were blatant ripoffs of the successful series (looking at you, Sleepover Friends and The Girls of Canby Hall), some were sick-lit tearjerkers à la Love Story (Abby, My Love) and some were just plain perplexing (Uncle Vampire??) But all of them represent that time gone by of girl-power and endless sessions of sustained silent reading. In six hilarious chapters (Friendship, Love, School, Family, Jobs, Terror, and Tragedy), Bustle Features Editor Gabrielle Moss takes the reader on a nostalgic tour of teen book covers of yore, digging deep into the history of the genre as well as the stories behind the best-known series.


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A hilarious and nostalgic trip through the history of paperback pre-teen series of the '80s and '90s. Every twenty- or thirty-something woman knows these books. The pink covers, the flimsy paper, the zillion volumes in the series that kept you reading for your entire adolescence. Spurred by the commercial success of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club, these were A hilarious and nostalgic trip through the history of paperback pre-teen series of the '80s and '90s. Every twenty- or thirty-something woman knows these books. The pink covers, the flimsy paper, the zillion volumes in the series that kept you reading for your entire adolescence. Spurred by the commercial success of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club, these were not the serious-issue YA novels of the 1970s, nor were they the blockbuster books of the Harry Potter and Twilight ilk. They were cheap, short, and utterly beloved. PAPERBACK CRUSH dives in deep to this golden age with affection, history, and a little bit of snark. Readers will discover (and fondly remember) girl-centric series on everything from correspondence (Pen Pals and Dear Diary) to sports (The Pink Parrots, Cheerleaders, and The Gymnasts) to a newspaper at an all-girls Orthodox Jewish middle school (The B.Y. Times) to a literal teen angel (Teen Angels: Heaven Can Wait, where an enterprising guardian angel named Cisco has to earn her wings “by helping the world’s sexist rock star.”) Some were blatant ripoffs of the successful series (looking at you, Sleepover Friends and The Girls of Canby Hall), some were sick-lit tearjerkers à la Love Story (Abby, My Love) and some were just plain perplexing (Uncle Vampire??) But all of them represent that time gone by of girl-power and endless sessions of sustained silent reading. In six hilarious chapters (Friendship, Love, School, Family, Jobs, Terror, and Tragedy), Bustle Features Editor Gabrielle Moss takes the reader on a nostalgic tour of teen book covers of yore, digging deep into the history of the genre as well as the stories behind the best-known series.

30 review for Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Justin Tate

    High off reading Paperbacks from Hell, which refueled my love for out-of-print horror, I couldn't wait to check out this follow-up from Quirk Books. Like many young readers in the 80s and 90s, my life was pretty much devoted to tearing through hoards of slim paperback novels. I tended to stay in the horror/mystery world of YA lit, but I was always curious about those other mega-series like Sweet Valley High and Baby-Sitters Club. Paperback Crush seemed to be the perfect guide to inform me all about w High off reading Paperbacks from Hell, which refueled my love for out-of-print horror, I couldn't wait to check out this follow-up from Quirk Books. Like many young readers in the 80s and 90s, my life was pretty much devoted to tearing through hoards of slim paperback novels. I tended to stay in the horror/mystery world of YA lit, but I was always curious about those other mega-series like Sweet Valley High and Baby-Sitters Club. Paperback Crush seemed to be the perfect guide to inform me all about what I missed, and remind me of all the greats I loved. The result? Totally radical indeed. Gabrielle Moss goes above and beyond with her research. This isn't just a summary of popular titles, it examines how the publishing trend got started and places social context on YA paperbacks' interaction with American history. The writing is hilariously tongue-in-cheek; a combination of nostalgic admiration and the ability to highlight ridiculous plots which, thanks to hindsight, we can laugh off. Other titles, of course, are worth noting because of how groundbreaking they were. Never a dull moment, beautifully put together with glossy pictures, and an overall rollicking good time, if you're like me and have fond memories of these YA books as a kid, you'll appreciate them more than ever with this book. Just as good as Paperbacks from Hell, in my opinion, and just as bad for my eBay wishlist. Sooooo many books I want to read now!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cameron Chaney

    I will have a video review for this book up soon, but you can read on for an early look at my (very mixed) thoughts… Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss… where to begin? I’ll start by saying that as someone who grew up in the ‘90s, children’s fiction played an important role in shaping who I am today. Had I never picked up a Goosebumps book or one of its many rip-offs, you wouldn’t be reading this review right now. I never would have become a veracious reader, I never would have become a writer, and I never would have start/>Paperback I will have a video review for this book up soon, but you can read on for an early look at my (very mixed) thoughts… Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss… where to begin? I’ll start by saying that as someone who grew up in the ‘90s, children’s fiction played an important role in shaping who I am today. Had I never picked up a Goosebumps book or one of its many rip-offs, you wouldn’t be reading this review right now. I never would have become a veracious reader, I never would have become a writer, and I never would have started reviewing books. Who knows where I’d be? I don’t. But I do know that these trashy little paperbacks made such an impact on my life that they paved the path I would soon take. And here we are. For the most part, not many people give much credit to these musty middle grade and YA books. While people who grew up in the ’80s and ‘90s may look back and think, “Oh, I remember The Babysitters Club” or “I used to love Sweet Valley books,” that’s about the extent of their appreciation. Others, such as myself, owe a lot more to these books and their authors. So, when I discovered that Quirk Books was releasing a new coffeetable tome covering the history of these novels (much in vein of Grady Hendrix’s incredible Paperbacks from Hell which came out last year), I was rabid to get my hands on it. Now that I’ve had time to sit down and digest Paperback Crush in its entirety, I can say that I appreciate its existence, though I’m not quite as pleased as I expected to be. While Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix was a loving celebration of the pulpy underground world of ‘80s and ‘90s horror fiction, Paperback Crush is more of a Buzzfeed-style critical analysis of YA fiction from the same time period. Let’s make one thing clear: what you see is what you get. As a kid, you didn’t pick up a Fear Street or Sweet Valley High book because you were expecting high-brow literature, you picked it up because it looked fun, modern (for the time), and mindless. These weren’t the books you were assigned to read in class, they were something meant to entertain… and meant to make you want to read instead of watching MTV or playing with your Tamagotchi. These books are also products of their time. Such should be obvious when you look at their covers or read their insane plots. Are many things from the ‘80s seen as problematic by today’s worldview? Yes. So, should Gabrielle Moss have to remind us of these books’ flaws every paragraph of every page of Paperback Crush? No. We get it! Reading these YA books in today’s light is not the same as reading modern YA books. They aren’t always diverse, the characters are not realistic, and some of the messages don’t stand the test of time… but were you expecting them to? Hell, I don't expect that from modern YA either. It’s good to point out at the beginning of Paperback Crush: “Hey, look, these books aren’t great literature and they aren’t going to make current political statements because they were written for kids over twenty years ago. So as long as you take them at face value and embrace them for as ridiculous and entertaining as they are, you will feel like a kid again.” But instead it feels like Moss, as passionate as she may be about these books, was terrified that people would take her suggestions, read these books, and then attack her for recommending problematic books. So instead of treating these books with grace and lightheartedness, she goes after the books with a critical sarcasm that never really lets up. I get wanting to look at these books objectively, but to do it the whole time leaves me wondering what the point of Paperback Crush really is. I mean, there’s even a tab titled “The Flaws in Our Stars.” If Gabrielle Moss likes these books, she certainly didn’t make a good case for the majority of them. By the time I got to the final chapter about horror (the chapter I was most excited for) I was, quite frankly, exhausted. That being said, Paperback Crush isn’t all bad. The book’s layout is beautiful and the chapter on horror, while short, was less negative than the rest of the book. There was even a rare interview with Christopher Pike, an author whom I admire deeply. I was scared Moss would go to town criticizing his work, but instead she casts him in a good light which I appreciate. He really was ahead of his time. I also discovered a lot of books I probably never would have picked up before, but now I want to go back and give them a shot. Oh yes, even the Sweet Valley books! I was always more of a horror kid, but these books just sound too crazy to pass up. If you are interested in reading Paperback Crush, don’t expect a light, fun journey back in time. If that’s what you’re looking for, go to your local thrift store and buy a ton of these books to read and enjoy. But if you are someone who has a life-long distaste for tasteless books, you might find this tome very… tasty. Overall, a (generous) rating of 3-stars.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ☠️ Hecka Wicked ☠️ Campbell

    OMG I NEED THIS LIKE I NEED AIR

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Edit: Bought the finished copy at ComiCon. Woot, all the pictures! End edit. I really loved this book. I grew up reading YA from the 80s and 90s, so this spoke to me re: memory lane, but it also felt well researched. The author mentions YA books from other eras from American history, including the first YA mystery, YA career books, etc. This was an ARC, so I don't know what the notes and bibliography will look like until it comes out in a finished form, but I so want it in Edit: Bought the finished copy at ComiCon. Woot, all the pictures! End edit. I really loved this book. I grew up reading YA from the 80s and 90s, so this spoke to me re: memory lane, but it also felt well researched. The author mentions YA books from other eras from American history, including the first YA mystery, YA career books, etc. This was an ARC, so I don't know what the notes and bibliography will look like until it comes out in a finished form, but I so want it in the finished form. The pictures in this are only in black and white and I would love to see them in color. A few pictures were missing from this, so seeing all of the pictures would be great too. If you grew up reading the books discussed in this work, you will most likely get a kick out of this. It is written in a very engaging, yet educational way. I completely enjoyed it, completely recommend it and completely will be buying the finished copy and hand selling the heck out of it at my store when it comes out! 5, take me back to my youth, stars. :)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Thought it would be lighter. And funnier. It was a woman trying to be oh so hip and giving commentary on books that weren’t really meant to be more than they were on the surface. Disappointed there wasn’t more on the overall sweet valley series, baby sitters club. It gave a tidbit of each of the authors. Plus the social commentary. We get it, no diversity. No this no that. They were written 30-40 years ago before everything became a socially conscious message. Things are just so over the top the Thought it would be lighter. And funnier. It was a woman trying to be oh so hip and giving commentary on books that weren’t really meant to be more than they were on the surface. Disappointed there wasn’t more on the overall sweet valley series, baby sitters club. It gave a tidbit of each of the authors. Plus the social commentary. We get it, no diversity. No this no that. They were written 30-40 years ago before everything became a socially conscious message. Things are just so over the top these days. I thought this would bring us back to a less charged time in our lives. Sadly disappointed I spent a few hours reading this.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Ohmygosh, Becky! This was like, the MOST! Not merely a look at the history and trends of the books that shaped so many childhoods, this book is also so damn hilarious that I was crying with laughter multiple times! Gabrielle Moss can really write, and her zingy deep dive into teen pulp fiction is truly a gift to us all. The book is a great mix of fascinating information (including the first books to feature non-white or queer main characters, trends that came and went and those that s Ohmygosh, Becky! This was like, the MOST! Not merely a look at the history and trends of the books that shaped so many childhoods, this book is also so damn hilarious that I was crying with laughter multiple times! Gabrielle Moss can really write, and her zingy deep dive into teen pulp fiction is truly a gift to us all. The book is a great mix of fascinating information (including the first books to feature non-white or queer main characters, trends that came and went and those that stayed, and interviews with authors like Christopher Pike) and humorous takedown of some of the sillier elements of the genre. Did you know that one of the first series about independent, sporty girls at school was written in 1919?! That Danny Elfman's mom, Blossom Elfman, wrote a number of teen mysteries?! And so did Isla Fisher! Come for the bright colors, "Caboodles font," and full color pictures of dozens of books you'll totally remember reading, stay for the riveting history!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I squealed in excitement when Paperback Crush was first brought to my attention. I pounced upon the advanced copy, flipping through its contents, waves of nostalgic recognition brightening my day. Bummer Summer! Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You! If This is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti! Old friends, these books. Once home, I eagerly delved into reading what I was certain would be a "good read." On the nostalgic front, Paperback Crush certainly delivers. Author Gabrielle Moss traces the rise of t I squealed in excitement when Paperback Crush was first brought to my attention. I pounced upon the advanced copy, flipping through its contents, waves of nostalgic recognition brightening my day. Bummer Summer! Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You! If This is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti! Old friends, these books. Once home, I eagerly delved into reading what I was certain would be a "good read." On the nostalgic front, Paperback Crush certainly delivers. Author Gabrielle Moss traces the rise of tween and teen fiction focusing on the era after Judy Blume's controversial Forever and before J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter made it cool for adults to read children's literature. Critics have often bemoaned this period for its lack of authenticity, claiming the books lacked both educational and moral values. Moss is quick to point out these novels, despite their faults, had merit. I would agree. Those of us who cut our reading teeth on such fare developed a positive association with reading. When The Baby-sitters Club debuted, I became an instant fan. Each time I visited B. Dalton or Waldenbooks at the mall (this was the '80's, after all) I immediately checked the shelves to see if a new installment of the series had been published. I knew it was not high brow literature. I recognized it as predictable and formulaic. However, this was comfort reading. Tidy, easily resolved, all loose ends tied up fare; a welcome respite from the mean halls of Totem Junior High. So, yes, classic literature it was not, But, I believe children who are allowed to read for pleasure become adults who take pleasure in reading. However, Paperback Crush is not without its faults. It felt as though Moss sometimes tried too hard to be witty, some of her puns fell flat. Additionally, the times when she injected her personal political beliefs seemed unnecessary. Digs against President Trump and Vice President Pence are out of place in a discussion of books written decades before these men took office. Most distressing was the repeated strategy of employing the standard feminist victim card. Over and over, she harped on the books for the way they portrayed girls. Though I would agree some of the novels do not ring true to life, playing the victim rarely results in any meaningful change of opinion but rather further cements the belief that women are weak. Overall, this was a fun read. As stated above, the author and I have differing opinions. However, not only was this a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I also learned quite a bit about the rise of teen literature. For the record, in order to preserve my reputation, it must be said that I have never read Sweet Valley High. This shall not change.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lexie

    Pretty much everything I wanted. It's s fun pop cultural dive into the history of Teen/Tween fiction from Nancy Drew to the Wakefield Twins. The format is fun, lively and perfect to pick up and put down in between running for class prez and prom Queen and baby-sitter of the year and fending off an ancient curse brought on by your family's inability to be decent human beings for one second. While th majority of the coverage is for the 80s/90s, Moss goes into the history of these books Pretty much everything I wanted. It's s fun pop cultural dive into the history of Teen/Tween fiction from Nancy Drew to the Wakefield Twins. The format is fun, lively and perfect to pick up and put down in between running for class prez and prom Queen and baby-sitter of the year and fending off an ancient curse brought on by your family's inability to be decent human beings for one second. While th majority of the coverage is for the 80s/90s, Moss goes into the history of these books (primarily a female audience) as cultural stand ins for young girls to get an idea of being a not quite adult. This is not meant to be a dictionary of every single series or author to write in the category since the earliest days. This gives a very broad overview, often discussing well known titles and authors, of the category with some lesser known variables. I am disappointed there wasn't a section devoted to fantasy/sci-fi, but then these were much less common. Still wanted to see the Secret of the Unciorn Queen books mentioned tho. But I could name at least a dozen series that weren't mentioned here because again this is a broad overview not a comprehensive compendium. (I would so buy that though, can we kickstart it?). Lots of fun for the nostalgia and even more for the laughs. Moss is witty and snarky, while still maintaining an academic tone.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Trin

    I wasn't allowed to read "series" books when I was a kid; my mom (hi, Mom!) thought they were trashy. Of course, this only increased their allure for me, so I snuck reading them whenever I could: secretly buying them for a quarter at yard sales and hiding them behind my bed; tucking myself away with them in the padded bathtub in the basement children's department of our town library after school*; and at least once going for a sleepover at a friend's house and then completely ignoring said frien I wasn't allowed to read "series" books when I was a kid; my mom (hi, Mom!) thought they were trashy. Of course, this only increased their allure for me, so I snuck reading them whenever I could: secretly buying them for a quarter at yard sales and hiding them behind my bed; tucking myself away with them in the padded bathtub in the basement children's department of our town library after school*; and at least once going for a sleepover at a friend's house and then completely ignoring said friend so I could devour Fear Street #37 or whatever. Thus, I eventually picked up enough series trash piecemeal to realize that most of these books were not very good** and that my mom was right and I was better off reading other things. Like superhero comics and fanfic and anything with time travel in it. You know, all the classy stuff that I read today. ANYWAY, Paperback Crush is an extremely funny and informative look back at this, to me, previously forbidden world. Gabrielle Moss is a delightful tour guide in all the ways Grady Hendrix unfortunately was not in his disappointing pulp horror exploration, Paperbacks From Hell; Paperback Crush, in contrast, feels well-researched, logically put together, socially aware, and--most importantly--full of jokes that actually land. My only complaint about this book is that there's not more of it: more analysis***, more ridiculous covers to look at, more than one cursory mention of Animorphs.**** But overall this book was so fun. Honestly, my mom was probably right that there were much better things for me and my growing mind to be reading as a kid. But now, as a totally stagnant adult, all bets are off! *This was a fun idea but actually really quite uncomfortable. **The exception, of course, being the Animorphs books, which were awesome. ***Seriously, why is there no concluding chapter? A middle school book report knows better! ****I really love Animorphs, okay?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kristina Horner

    This book a very fun and nostalgic romp down memory lane, as I read a SHOCKING number of these books growing up. I loved revisiting all the old titles that made me fall in love with reading in the first place (for better or for worse, lol!) Small amount of critique, though: 1. The author felt a little preachy at times - yes, many of these books haven't aged well. It's important to talk about how far we've come as a society and as an industry, definitely. Sometimes the author just felt a bit This book a very fun and nostalgic romp down memory lane, as I read a SHOCKING number of these books growing up. I loved revisiting all the old titles that made me fall in love with reading in the first place (for better or for worse, lol!) Small amount of critique, though: 1. The author felt a little preachy at times - yes, many of these books haven't aged well. It's important to talk about how far we've come as a society and as an industry, definitely. Sometimes the author just felt a bit self-righteous, which took away from the fun of reading a book literally marketed on nostalgia. 2. The book is broken up into chapters based on overall themes, like friendship, family, school, etc. It ends on "Danger" and "Terror", which is a lot of bad, depressing a dark all at once. Coupled with the fact that there's no concluding chapter or even a farewell or a "here's what we've learned from YA of the 80s and 90s" or a "how these books helped shaped today's YA landscape", the book ends extremely abruptly. Like... I sat feeling stunned for a moment that the book just ENDS. It was bizarre. 3. The author was literally obsessed with Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield of Sweet Valley esteem, and referenced them nearly every other page. Usually to mock or belittle them, but still. She brought them up CONSTANTLY.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

    When I got this from the library I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a full-colour, lite-textbook style of book. The cover touts it as "the totally radical history of 80's and 90's teen fiction" but what it should have said is "a totally sarcastic critical review of ...etc". There's not much I can add to what the top reviews for this book haven't already said. All the covers of various books that were included throughout were awesome, and a nice visual trip down memory lane for someone When I got this from the library I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a full-colour, lite-textbook style of book. The cover touts it as "the totally radical history of 80's and 90's teen fiction" but what it should have said is "a totally sarcastic critical review of ...etc". There's not much I can add to what the top reviews for this book haven't already said. All the covers of various books that were included throughout were awesome, and a nice visual trip down memory lane for someone who absolutely devoured paperback series in the 90's (Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins). However the rest of the book was just kind of exhausting and all over the place. I am pretty sure there's not a soul who has ever picked up a Sweet Valley book and recognized that the Wakefield twins were idyllic to the point it was almost satire. WE KNOW YA series written for girls in the 80's were a product of their time, entertainment for entertainment's sake, lack diversity blah blah blah. It felt like the author was trying so hard to apologize for enjoying these "problematic" books so that she wouldn't get annihilated on Medium or Twitter for not being "woke" or something that she forgot to enjoy them altogether, and maintained an incredibly sarcastic, mocking, smug tone throughout that almost made you feel defensive about having enjoyed them yourself. Can't we just acknowledge they were what they were and not repeat it on every page? Why ZERO discussion about why they were so popular if they weren't realistic portrayals of middle school life and how important escapist fiction might be to teens? What impact did these unrealistic books have on the kids who read them? Did we all grow up to be flaming racists or generally well-adjusted citizens who can acknowledge potential issues in various forms of entertainment but still find some enjoyment in them overall? As a result of her weird tone and one-sided "discussion" I honestly could not figure out what the point of this book was. Was it supposed to be a celebration of these books, a history, or a critical review of the social issues in the books (or lack thereof)? It wasn't a legitimate historical review because she never really described how she decided on her timeline, what books to include, or even what she considered the overall "genre" other than YA. It seemed like she just chose a bunch of books that were popular and easy to make fun of, peppered throughout with a few books that did tackle more sensitive issues or included more diversity, but it was overall unclear. I know I DEFINITELY read a lot of the books she mentioned in hardcover which meant they were considered slightly higher brow literature than Sweet Valley. And ARE YOU KIDDING that Gabrielle Moss is a professional editor? This book ended so abruptly, without even a concluding sentence let alone chapter, that it seems like pages are missing. There were typos and formatting errors throughout and a very noticeable recurring incorrect title for "Are You in the House Alone?" Low hanging fruit, people! Come on! Overall this book was just exhausting to read by the end. The only element I actually found funny was how she kept mentioning that every YA paperback series had one character whose personality was that she used to live in New York - so true, so true. Granted, she is an editor at Bustle, not a book editor. While I'd still expect anyone who ever has to write anything for their job to know that a nonfiction work needs at least a concluding sentence, perhaps it was so exhausting because it read like a way too long internet article, or series of them. I said to Brahm that I generally read books to escape the snarky, choppy, bloggy, listy style of internet writing but this book was like having to read 200 pages of Buzzfeed lists. Why did I finish it? I don't even know. Moss included a (very short) reading list at the end, her "references" I suppose, and the few other books in existence about this topic have reviews that make them sound incredibly similar to this one. Why was this book even made then if it's not even filling a gap? I am only 34; I hope that at some point in my life a legitimate literary historian does a real deep dive and writes the book I was hoping this one would be. In conclusion, if I may get in a jab of my own, to write an entire book about 80's/90's paperback series and only have two pages on the Baby-Sitters Club is unacceptable. Also based on many of the slightly inaccurate things she snarked about the Baby-Sitters Club I suspect she was not even a true fan.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Somewhere between the YA ‘problem’ novels of the 1970s and the record breaking premiere of Harry Potter, publishers targeted tweens with a very specific kind of book. They were often short paperbacks with flashy covers and sometimes ridiculous plots. In Paperback Crush, author Gabrielle Moss has written a beautiful celebration and critique of these massively popular tween paperback series. It should be noted that though this book is detailed, it isn’t encyclopedic. There are simply to Somewhere between the YA ‘problem’ novels of the 1970s and the record breaking premiere of Harry Potter, publishers targeted tweens with a very specific kind of book. They were often short paperbacks with flashy covers and sometimes ridiculous plots. In Paperback Crush, author Gabrielle Moss has written a beautiful celebration and critique of these massively popular tween paperback series. It should be noted that though this book is detailed, it isn’t encyclopedic. There are simply too many books from this time to devote serious discussion, and readers should be aware that their personal favorites might not be included. However, Moss deserves an award for the sheer volume of works she’s able to thoughtfully examine. Obviously, she has her own favorites, and her many references to Sweet Valley High will please a lot of fans. But her look at many less popular series, including The B.Y. Times and The Girls of Canby Hall, is spot-on. Moss’s success rests on two facts. One, her analysis of these series is interesting. She approaches it from a sociological perspective, considering these books within the context they were written and how they related to tweens. She doesn’t shy away from the more problematic themes in many books, especially race, and these moments are particularly poignant. Two, Moss is just funny. There were multiple times I had to pause and share a section to someone because I was laughing so much. One of the biggest problems with books about other books is they always add to my to-be-read pile. Paperback Crush is no exception. Some I remembered, some I didn’t, and many I had never heard of before. Gabrielle Moss, for good or bad, makes them all sound like fun. Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stacy Fetters

    "This is R.L.’s world; we just make out with our dead, hunky ex-boyfriends and have psychotic breaks in it." This was a blast from the past and I couldn’t stop reading it. No matter where I was, I found myself pulling out my phone to read this. I laughed, I cringed, I remembered how old I was, and then I laughed some more. I remember reading some of these books when I was a kid. It was definitely a perk from being a 90’s kid. Some of these titles I have never heard of and they were instantly "This is R.L.’s world; we just make out with our dead, hunky ex-boyfriends and have psychotic breaks in it." This was a blast from the past and I couldn’t stop reading it. No matter where I was, I found myself pulling out my phone to read this. I laughed, I cringed, I remembered how old I was, and then I laughed some more. I remember reading some of these books when I was a kid. It was definitely a perk from being a 90’s kid. Some of these titles I have never heard of and they were instantly added to my forever growing tbr. Some of them should be coming in through request at work and I can’t wait to see the look on my co-worker's faces. They already know how weird I am. Each chapter brings something new and hilarious to the table. Gabrielle has a way of making you want to read a book and laugh hysterically at the same time. It was pure genius. I really enjoyed this book. Her wittiness and that nostalgia feeling is definitely a force to be reckoned with. I’m glad someone else shares my love for these amazing titles, which can now be found at your local thrift store for cents. And always remember that "Teenagers and romantic love go together like a drunk person and a six-day-old piece of pizza: it’s a pairing destined to lead only to pain, but you try to keep them apart."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This was just fun. Thoughtful reading on nostalgic teen and tween book series from the 80s and 90s, peppered with interviews and insights into the trends and themes of these ubiquitous books. I extra appreciated that Moss highlighted how white and upper class these titles were, while also including the few inclusive titles that did exist (and I'm FASCINATED by Marie G. Lee's name change to make her less Asian-sounding as an author but she was the first Asian American author to write an Asian Ame This was just fun. Thoughtful reading on nostalgic teen and tween book series from the 80s and 90s, peppered with interviews and insights into the trends and themes of these ubiquitous books. I extra appreciated that Moss highlighted how white and upper class these titles were, while also including the few inclusive titles that did exist (and I'm FASCINATED by Marie G. Lee's name change to make her less Asian-sounding as an author but she was the first Asian American author to write an Asian American protagonist to be published by a major publisher...racism in the industry has only moved so far). It's like reading your favorite blog of pop culture and book history, with an appealing format that makes it easy to devour. I only wish more resources had been included.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Very much through a modern lens, which is both good and bad. I hate the constant cries of how 'problematic' and 'racist' things were. It was an age pre-hyper political correctness -- of course these things were there, both with and without subtlety. Also, this book ends SUPER abruptly, which disappointed me more than anything else. I'm surprised the editor/publisher let it go to print that way, with no real conclusion. Overall an okay deconstruction of pop culture, but with some finesse lacking Very much through a modern lens, which is both good and bad. I hate the constant cries of how 'problematic' and 'racist' things were. It was an age pre-hyper political correctness -- of course these things were there, both with and without subtlety. Also, this book ends SUPER abruptly, which disappointed me more than anything else. I'm surprised the editor/publisher let it go to print that way, with no real conclusion. Overall an okay deconstruction of pop culture, but with some finesse lacking in the execution.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty

    I loved this book! Of course I'm a sucker for this sort of thing anyway (I even co-host a podcast, Teenage Scream, about 90s teen horror; Point Horror, Nightmare Hall, Goosebumps, Christopher Pike – yes please) so I was predisposed to enjoy it. The balance here is just right. There's the nostalgia of the plotlines, characters and issues; the soft watercolour covers of the 80s into the neon geometrics of the early 90s into the edgy black-and-white covers of the late 90s; the humour and wit of Mos I loved this book! Of course I'm a sucker for this sort of thing anyway (I even co-host a podcast, Teenage Scream, about 90s teen horror; Point Horror, Nightmare Hall, Goosebumps, Christopher Pike – yes please) so I was predisposed to enjoy it. The balance here is just right. There's the nostalgia of the plotlines, characters and issues; the soft watercolour covers of the 80s into the neon geometrics of the early 90s into the edgy black-and-white covers of the late 90s; the humour and wit of Moss's writing voice. But there's also a decent level of analysis going on. Moss doesn't allow it to be a pure nostalgia-fest; although she clearly loves these books, she re-rereads them with a critical modern eye. This would be a great Christmas gift for a bookish 30-something friend – or for yourself.

  17. 4 out of 5

    vanessa

    A light and entertaining look at a subject I was not that well-versed on: YA fiction of the '80s and '90s. Moss divides the book by themes these books touch upon, such as friendship, family, romance, and taboo subjects and issues. I enjoyed that this book had pictures of covers and used nice glossy paper. I also liked the little interviews with pivotal players in the genre. Definitely not a book that dives deep and that may get repetitive at some points (yes, I get that the majority of these boo A light and entertaining look at a subject I was not that well-versed on: YA fiction of the '80s and '90s. Moss divides the book by themes these books touch upon, such as friendship, family, romance, and taboo subjects and issues. I enjoyed that this book had pictures of covers and used nice glossy paper. I also liked the little interviews with pivotal players in the genre. Definitely not a book that dives deep and that may get repetitive at some points (yes, I get that the majority of these books had archetypical girls!).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    This was a pretty entertaining and cute trip down memory lane. I grew up with Sweet Valley High and Babysitter's Club series (and all their variations, especially California Diaries--those mature themes taught me a LOT, probably too much, as a young teen). It was interesting to read about all the popular teen series in the 80's and 90's and how they could be both reflective of their times and also drive the cultural climate. I loved reading these YA books either for wish fulfillment or seeing my This was a pretty entertaining and cute trip down memory lane. I grew up with Sweet Valley High and Babysitter's Club series (and all their variations, especially California Diaries--those mature themes taught me a LOT, probably too much, as a young teen). It was interesting to read about all the popular teen series in the 80's and 90's and how they could be both reflective of their times and also drive the cultural climate. I loved reading these YA books either for wish fulfillment or seeing myself in the characters (which wasn't as often as I'd liked, but these days diverse YA books are much more plentiful). Most of BSB/SVH/etc books were enjoyed based on wish fulfillment, to be honest.. who didn't want to lead a fun, sexy life in high school with parties, driving around in Jeeps, and lots of boyfriends? Who didn't want to lead a fun, wholesome life in middle school earning some extra cash babysitting and being able to freely hang out with your friends and bike wherever you pleased? But man, that lack of diversity... when I had pipe dreams of being a writer back in my teens, I always wanted to write a realistic YA series based on an Asian-American girl going through typical American teen worries. I was sick of reading about Asians mostly through the lens of historical fiction. Now, I'm glad we live in a time where there's lots of Asian-American YA protagonists to see yourself reflected in!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stasia

    Well. Here's what I liked: -It had a really, cool cover. -Nostalgia over childhood/tween books. -It had a really nice cover. -The bit where the author says ordering a crate of "Sweet Valley" books was a form of self help for her. -...have I mentioned it had a REALLY nice cover?! I hate it when a book bombs for me. I had been waiting three weeks to get this from the library, and after getting it, I felt really let down. Things that annoyed me: the authors perso Well. Here's what I liked: -It had a really, cool cover. -Nostalgia over childhood/tween books. -It had a really nice cover. -The bit where the author says ordering a crate of "Sweet Valley" books was a form of self help for her. -...have I mentioned it had a REALLY nice cover?! I hate it when a book bombs for me. I had been waiting three weeks to get this from the library, and after getting it, I felt really let down. Things that annoyed me: the authors personality throughout the book was like hearing the voice of a radio DJ I despise the WHOLE time. She was overly critical about every book, except for the ones she calls 'rare exceptions in 1980's-90's YA', meaning the few books about lesbian teens and books encouraging teens to go ahead and have the abortion. She was SO hard on your 'Reaganesque' era family. WHY, today, is it ok to tolerate everyone else's crap, and then be told, 'the books you read throughout your whole childhood were wrong. You weren't introduced to diversity in couples and you were told that having an abortion was a no no." Maybe I'm being overly critical myself, possibly just because, like I said, I was SO excited for this book. Also...the language. WHY?! Why, in books revisiting our childhoods, do authors feel there needs to be MAJOR curse word bombs?? Things I liked: the history behind YA books. The timelines were interesting and informative. Author interviews. And honestly, the thing I liked best was seeing the pictures of those neon and pastel book covers... I well remember reading all "The Babysitters Club" books, "The Saddle Club", the TV spin off books like "Full House: Stephanie",.. but overall, the book as a whole was a sad let down.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hallie

    I'M OBSESSED. I feel like this book was written just for me

  21. 5 out of 5

    ❤️

    I had a lot of fun reading through this the past couple of evenings. There's some good info in here about the history of young adult fiction, but mostly I just got a kick out of looking at all the different book covers of old school teen paperbacks, laughing at their dramatic taglines and reading their little blurbs. Some of these books were seriously out there! But more than anything I was particularly interested in the sections that highlighted the Babysitters Club books, R.L. Stine's Fear Str I had a lot of fun reading through this the past couple of evenings. There's some good info in here about the history of young adult fiction, but mostly I just got a kick out of looking at all the different book covers of old school teen paperbacks, laughing at their dramatic taglines and reading their little blurbs. Some of these books were seriously out there! But more than anything I was particularly interested in the sections that highlighted the Babysitters Club books, R.L. Stine's Fear Street (etc) books and Christopher Pike, because as a kid of the 90s that's what I grew up on and loved. This is that sort of nostalgia I can't get enough of and now I just want to go browse all my local used bookstores to see how many of the books featured in this one I can find for like a quarter.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    I would have liked a little bit more on the books themselves instead of the books as societal trends, but reading this was a delight and a really nice little time capsule. It's amazing how many of these books I recognized and also how many totally went past me (the stalking, horror, give me all the clubs, please!) Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Super Mystery series read to attend to.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Renata

    This was just the blend of nostalgia and criticism that I wanted. I loved revisiting series I loved/forgot about, as well as learning about other series that totally passed me by. I appreciated Moss's mixture of remebering her own faves, observing how they skewed white/abled/straight/upper class/etc, and digging out pioneering books/series that perhaps were less overall popular but were more diverse than Sweet Valley et al. (I also appreciated her introductory note that she was blending together This was just the blend of nostalgia and criticism that I wanted. I loved revisiting series I loved/forgot about, as well as learning about other series that totally passed me by. I appreciated Moss's mixture of remebering her own faves, observing how they skewed white/abled/straight/upper class/etc, and digging out pioneering books/series that perhaps were less overall popular but were more diverse than Sweet Valley et al. (I also appreciated her introductory note that she was blending together YA and middle grade series under the grounds that tweens read indiscriminatorily. That was certainly true for me--as a young tween I was definitely grabbing Sunset Island and Sweet Valley High at the same time I was reading BSC books, even though those are NOT aimed at the same age group. I know that was not everyone's experience as a young reader, though!) The interviews with authors, editors, and even one of the models who posed as Claudia Kishi were great pieces of added information too.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    So overall I liked this a lot, but at times, it was too snarky for me. Like, for sure I want a book like this to deal with lack of diversity and problematic approaches to serious issues, but I'm not here for making fun of ridiculous plots. I'm here to be nostalgic!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    This book was completely hilarious and will be a trip down nostalgia lane for any woman who grew up in the 1980s and 1980s and read A LOT. I read a lot of varied things, so I did not hit all of the titles mentioned in this book. However, I did read quite a few. The author also has some great turn of phrases and I laughed out loud several times. It was amazing how much I remember when these book titles were shown to me again. This book is also full of covers, so you can check out bad 1980s and 19 This book was completely hilarious and will be a trip down nostalgia lane for any woman who grew up in the 1980s and 1980s and read A LOT. I read a lot of varied things, so I did not hit all of the titles mentioned in this book. However, I did read quite a few. The author also has some great turn of phrases and I laughed out loud several times. It was amazing how much I remember when these book titles were shown to me again. This book is also full of covers, so you can check out bad 1980s and 1990s cover art and fashion. I also like how the author shows that a lot of the teen fiction published in this period featured heroines who were upper middle class, straight and white. She does try to highlight books who fall outside these parameters. My only complaint about this book was that it just ENDED. There was no final conclusion or wrap up. I just turned the page and was met with a list of acknowledgements. What a letdown from a great book. I definitely recommend this.

  26. 4 out of 5

    vicky

    Oh, this was great! “Are you a mature, sensible individual who cares about mature, sensible things like your 401(k) and gum health – but who also cares about those poor dopes who kept moving to Fear Street, even though it had a well-documented murder problem?” Umm, yes. I have been on a bit of a 90s teen horror binge this year (and not only for Halloween), in part thanks to Hey Little Thrifter and the amazing Teenage Scream podcast hosted by Heather Parry and Kirsty Logan. Paperback Crush consists of seven m/>Paperback/> Oh, this was great! “Are you a mature, sensible individual who cares about mature, sensible things like your 401(k) and gum health – but who also cares about those poor dopes who kept moving to Fear Street, even though it had a well-documented murder problem?” Umm, yes. I have been on a bit of a 90s teen horror binge this year (and not only for Halloween), in part thanks to Hey Little Thrifter and the amazing Teenage Scream podcast hosted by Heather Parry and Kirsty Logan. Paperback Crush consists of seven main chapters, sprinkled with a sense of humour and focusing on love, friends, family, school, jobs (from babysitters to camp counselors), danger, and terror: “This book is a place of understanding. A place where you can sit down, get comfortable, and talk about Claudia Kishi’s pumpkin earrings or that time Jessica Wakefield accidentally joined a cult while she was at the mall.” While the majority of the chapters are more light-hearted and the books’s golden thread is the commentary on social and cultural issues prevalent in the era, the section on “fear” was definitely the darkest one, discussing teen fiction's take on drugs, aids, abuse and teen pregnancies (“Luckily, not every YA book about abortion from that time reads like an entry in Mike Pence’s dream journal.”) Personally, I’m most familiar with the horror subgenre, apart from the occasional babysitter, horse club, or college book, so I would have loved to read more on that. But all in all, this was a great read and exactly what I wanted. Side note: I loved that the book included the covers of the novels it was talking about, commenting on the cover design and its implications.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    I am crushing on this book and it totally deserves it. It is not only a nostalgia book of my childhood paperback collection, but an indepth look at the various things that made 80s and 90s YA tick. It is broken down into sections like romance, jobs, family, mystery and horror. And for each page i turned there was another books where i was screaming “I read that book”! Plus, while I managed to never read a Sweet Valley High book while I was a teenager, I now feel like I missed out on something, a I am crushing on this book and it totally deserves it. It is not only a nostalgia book of my childhood paperback collection, but an indepth look at the various things that made 80s and 90s YA tick. It is broken down into sections like romance, jobs, family, mystery and horror. And for each page i turned there was another books where i was screaming “I read that book”! Plus, while I managed to never read a Sweet Valley High book while I was a teenager, I now feel like I missed out on something, and will be scouring thrift stores looking for coveted entries in the series. The author has quotes from authors, and those influenced by the authors, and opened my eyes to all sorts of things I didn’t already know. For example, RL Stine wanted to write joke books, but also wrote some family/romance titles, or that Lois Duncan was a YA romance writer before she decided to scare the pants off her readers. I cannot say enough awesome things about this book. Even if you didn’t grow up in the era of the books they author is talking about, i am sure you will find something to interest you, or at least a ton of titles to add to your TBR.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    My library covered this book with contact paper, just in case the contents alone didn’t remind me of fourth through eighth grade.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Neville Longbottom

    3.5 - This was a really fun read looking back at teen fiction from the 80s and 90s. This is definitely not a super in depth look at the teen fiction of this era and hardcore analyzing the content and the publishing world. It’s more of a casual look at this topic with a pretty light, joke-y voice. I enjoyed the way the book was written, it made me laugh out loud a couple times when it would poke fun at how ridiculous some of the plotlines in the books were. However, I can imagine that if you want 3.5 - This was a really fun read looking back at teen fiction from the 80s and 90s. This is definitely not a super in depth look at the teen fiction of this era and hardcore analyzing the content and the publishing world. It’s more of a casual look at this topic with a pretty light, joke-y voice. I enjoyed the way the book was written, it made me laugh out loud a couple times when it would poke fun at how ridiculous some of the plotlines in the books were. However, I can imagine that if you wanted more of an analysis of the books then this might come off as annoying. The book does touch on some more serious issues and point out blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, and other problematic content in the books. However, overall the book doesn’t go too deep with any specific issues, it’s all pretty surface level. I do wish there would’ve been some sort of conclusion at the end. The book just ends after the chapter on horror, it felt really abrupt. I think the book would have benefited from wrapping everything up at the end rather than just ... stopping, kind of out of nowhere. I think if you have any sort of nostalgia about books like The Baby-Sitters Club or Sweet Valley High then you should give this a shot. Or even if you know absolutely nothing about any of these books, it would still be amusing to flip through and look at all the old ridiculous covers and read about the totally bonkers stuff that would happen in the stories.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tiana Hadnt

    So....I finally finished this. It’s barely a ⭐⭐⭐ read for me. More like ⭐⭐1/2. Let me explain. This book was marketed as a trip down memory lane for those of us who grew up reading and loving the mass produced YA (though that term didn’t really exist then) from the 80s and 90s. It would talk about loads of favorite titles and basically just be a nostalgia-fest. And in a very specific way it did that. So many titles and authors I loved, and so many new ones for me to go search for. I c So....I finally finished this. It’s barely a ⭐️⭐️⭐️ read for me. More like ⭐️⭐️1/2. Let me explain. This book was marketed as a trip down memory lane for those of us who grew up reading and loving the mass produced YA (though that term didn’t really exist then) from the 80s and 90s. It would talk about loads of favorite titles and basically just be a nostalgia-fest. And in a very specific way it did that. So many titles and authors I loved, and so many new ones for me to go search for. I could post an entire list of books that I want to reread or experience for the first time. And that’s where the nostalgia ended. This is not a book that loves this time period. This is a book that seeks to increase its modern day impact by pointing out everything wrong that the books did or didn’t do. Again, yet another book that tears down an entire time period because they didn’t view the world the way it’s viewed now. That tears down problems that didn’t exist AS PROBLEMS back then. No, there weren’t many (or any) LGBT, Black, Hispanic, or Asian characters. But guess what? All of those groups still read and enjoyed these books. Was that problematic? Yes. Did we know that before someone told us a few years ago that it was? Not really. We just wanted to read good, trashy, dramatic fiction. And the books were relatable to a degree because everybody dealt with bullying, frenemies, hard home life, and fitting in, no matter who they wanted to date, or what color their skin was. I didn’t need the main character to be a black female for me to feel like junior high or high school was hard to navigate. For every series the author mentions that I wasn’t familiar with, or for every cover I saw that was a loved old friend, the author has some reason why it’s not good, some list of criteria it doesn’t meet by modern standards, some uncountable number of flaws based on those criteria. And she does it on every. Single. Page. We get it. We get that there were things in those books that were “problematic.” (How I hate that word...) We don’t have to be reminded every third paragraph. Then there are statements like this: “By the end of their respective novels, both Maggie and Cassie decide that most guys are alright and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis - a decision that’s less a credit to the greatness of the men in their lives than a first foray into the timeless womanly art of settling.” What?!! So, if you have to deal with divorce and a deadbeat dad, it’s perfectly acceptable to lump ALL men under the category of douchebags? Judging an individual based on his or her actions as an individual is “settling?” This is the mentality that ends up with mass incarcerations and shootings of innocent Black men, because “all Black men are drug dealers and criminals.” The mentality that has mosques being shot up and Muslims being abused , because “all Muslims are terrorists.” That has men in general being vilified and trashed because “all men are assaulters and rapists.” Another example of a ridiculous statement: “None of the college novels accurately renders the experience of attending college...” Quite frankly, who would want an accurate rendering of the college experience? Cramming all night for a test, weeks spent writing papers, getting up at 7:00 in the morning for an 8:00 class, late nights doing homework, complete lack of social life unless you’re in the right clubs/fraternities/sororities, and the same mean-girl-ing, nonsensical social rules you bought you were supposed to leave in high school. Not to mention that even on a small college campus there are hundreds of students, each of whom will have a completely different “experience of attending college.” We weren’t reading these books for their real life appeal. We were reading them to have fun, to escape, to imagine ourselves in places where bad things could happen but everything was fine but the end of the book, or at least of the next in the series. My main issue with this book is that the author is perpetuating the misconception that if it came before, then it’s bad. If it’s old, then it’s useless. And that simply isn’t true. Modern day YA has solved none of the “problems” she’s harped on in every single page of this book. Yes, there are more gay characters. There are even more Black, Asian, and Latino characters. But how often are they not portrayed in the most blatantly stereotypical, caricature-esque ways? How often do we see these people as fully fleshed out, real people who aren’t dealing with typically “black issues,” “gay issues,” “Asian issues” or “Latin issues?” Not very often at all. The Caucasian female characters still get to go on most of the adventures, have the best summer loves, and fight all the demons, monsters, and villains without a hair out of place. They’re still the most popular and the most able to deal with everyday subjects like grades, or home life, or decent relationships. The covers are still unrealistic. There are still the subtypes of “the rich one, “the mean one” “the cheerleader,” “the jock,” or “the nerd.” You have YA series and TV shows like Gossip Girl which could give Sweet Valley High and the Wakefield twins a run for their money on any day of the week. Authors of racial minorities are still struggling to get published unless their writing fits what’s deemed accessible and interesting to mainstream (read: non-minority) audiences. There is still bullying, suicide, and token characterization. In short, if you’re looking for a trip down memory lane, this book is not for you. If you’re looking for a way to discover loads of books you’ve never heard of, followed by all the reasons you shouldn’t read them, go ahead. Give it a try. But don’t blame me if you go into it expecting something you aren’t going to get.

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