Inspired by fellow writer Johanna Parkhurst‘s blog post on the YA she read growing up, I decided to hop on this wagon and go down memory lane myself.
I read far more adult books than YA books when I was a teen. I think it’s fairly typical of a dedicated bookworm to skip the supposed easy stuff and go straight for the classics, both the heavy ones and the delightful ones. Like so many readers before me, I could never get enough of Austen and the Brontës, or Dickens. I gave up on a few Russians (Dostoyevsky – to this day I haven’t completed any of his works), I thought D.H. Lawrence was mostly dull, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch was given up on several times until I completed it and liked it after seeing the TV series.
Thinking back, though, I realize I did read buckets of YA too, and some of the titles are still unforgettable. My bookshelf was always crammed with various MG and YA books, and I was a member of several books clubs catering to the YA market. I religiously saved up money to buy as many of their monthly shipments as possible.
So, which titles do I remember? I still have a box of old books in the attic, and when I went through them this morning, a number of lovely gems appeared.
When I was a teen, the majority of my books were read in Norwegian, usually translated from either English or Swedish if they weren’t originally Norwegian.
One YA series that stood out in my Norwegian selection, was Ingvar Ambjørnsens’s “Pelle & Proffen” series. His teen working-class boys from Oslo tackled neo-nazis, drugs, prostitution, environmental dangers, violence and corruption. (Fairly controversial issues, perhaps, but not so much here in Norway, where the dark sides of society were/are not regarded as unsuitable for teens to know about.)
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a couple of the books were filmed, to great national success. “Døden på Oslo S /Death on Oslo S” and “Giftige løgner /Poison lies” were on every teen’s lips. The soundtracks also featured my favourite band at the time, DumDumBoys, who were extra special since they came from my town and several of the band members had had the same primary school teacher as I did.
I read many books that were YA novels from the US, and though I realize now that these books, much like films, sort of gave me a very stereotypical view of life across the pond, they taught me a few useful things. (Like dating – which was completely unknown in my world, where boys and girls went out to meet each other and it was never referred to as a date or anything formal or anything entailing going to whichever lengths. Dating was not how you got a boyfriend or girlfriend back then.)
One series I particularly liked, and that I re-read dozens of times when I was aged 13-16, and later when I needed to reminisce about the old days, was Candice F. Ransom’s trilogy Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen. I read these in Norwegian, and today, when finding them in the attic and then checking them on Goodreads, I discovered that the names of the protagonists were changed in translation. In the original, the main character is Kobie, and her best friend is Gretchen. In my versions, Kobie had become Katie and Gretchen Gillian. For some reason the translator thought the original names were too difficult for Norwegians… The books were still great fun, though, and I remember Kobie/Katie as a character I could recognize myself in.
Other books that I read and re-read were the Adrian Mole series by the late Sue Townsend. He was fun, sweet, helpless, nerdy and desperate. I really identified with his struggles. His family was also fabulous, especially his unemployed dad.
My own family used to watch the TV series together, and none of us really wanted Adrian to get together with Pandora.
I’ve read all of the Adrian Mole books, also the ones where he’s adult, but none of the sequels can really compete with the first book, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4.
When I was 15 or 16, I had a penpal (the old-fashioned kind, you know, the one where you send each other hand-written letters. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?) who lived in Idaho. Her name was Autumn, and she often wrote about how she snuck out of her window at night to go out and meet her friends after curfew.
She also sent me V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. I was hooked on the creepiness of that book immediately, and begged her to send me the sequels, which she did. They were even more creepy, and in hindsight I see that this series was definitely questionable when it came to relationships and sex…! And how evil wasn’t that grandmother?!
Joan Lingard’s series about Kevin and Sadie, the Romeo and Juliet of Belfast, also struck a chord with me. Across the Barricades and the sequels were among the first books I read in English.
As for my students, I think it’s highly unlikely they have ever heard about any of the books mentioned above. They probably know who Ingvar Ambjørnsen is because he’s written some successful adult books that are easily accessible and which are often used in schools – plus several have been filmed (Elling, anyone? It was even made into a play that ran for a week or so on Broadway before being cancelled…) – but the rest are probably unknown to them. Most will know who John Green is, and since we read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in English class, they may remember the name Sherman Alexie if I ask them in August. They’re the Harry Potter and Twilight and Hunger Games generation.
EDIT 29/6-14: How could I forget S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders?! I was in love with all the brothers!