Tuesday, March 12, 2019

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


Rating: 2 Stars

I was super excited for this one, but it left me completely underwhelmed. Given my love of books from my childhood and teen years, I was deeply sad when I finished the book because it was not at all what I thought it would be. Seriously, only being able to muster two stars for this book is crushing my soul. But I have to be honest. So, honestly, this book was a huuuuuuge disappointment - and the two stars are generous. The only reason it is even getting two stars if because of the nostalgia it did provide in certain sections.

In the synopsis on Goodreads it says, "A hilarious and nostalgic trip through the history of paperback pre-teen series of the 80s and 90s"I must have missed the humor part, which I suppose is possible, considering the fact that I ended up skimming quite a bit toward the end.

So the book was divided up into sections based on love, friends, family, school, jobs, danger, and terror. The author pulled from many series and authors over and over, and the general structure of the book didn't make a lot of sense to me. I feel like there could have been a better way to discuss such pivotal books (no, I don't mean they're great literature, but be honest, these books made so many kids into readers. That counts for a lot, even if they don't stand up well to the test of time). Maybe if the bigger series could have had their own chapters, or at least their own extensive sections, then the content would not have felt so scattered and all over the place. For example, Sweet Valley was discussed at length, but spread out over those multiple chapters, so the book felt disjointed. There was also not nearly as much a discussion on Fear Street as there should have been, and again I think this is owed to the poorly structured way the book was written. Fear Street really only fits the categories of 'danger' and 'terror', so there was not nearly enough written about the impact of these books - or Goosebumps for the bit younger crowd. And if you're up for a debate, there weren't nearly enough pages devoted to Christopher Pike either. Ah, memories. To go back to the days of simplicity, when the biggest kerfuffle was arguing over who was better, Stine or Pike. Personally, I preferred Stine because I loved all the history that went into Fear Street, like the original trilogy saga. Plus one can't forget the Cheerleaders series, and Fear Street Seniors. Man, I loved those books. Pike kind of freaked me out, his books always felt darker to me, which is a laugh now when I look back at how dark and crazed Stine's books also were. Seriously, a whole group of seniors were dying and no parents thought, "Hmmm, we have multiple really scary incidents and strange, violent deaths here in Shadyside. Maybe we should leave so our kids don't DIE." But that was the beauty of it. It was teen and pre-teen fiction; we ate it up, it didn't always have to make sense.

My number one issue with this entire book is that honestly, it felt at many times like the author didn't even love the books as a kid nearly as much as the title and blurb implied. She was so critical of nearly every book, author, series, whatever. It really was not a fun book to read. What I wanted (and thought I was getting) from this was a trip down memory lane with books that I devoured as a middle school and high school student. I wanted to know more about how they came to be, the authors, etc. Instead, this text is peppered with long and short diatribes lamenting the lack of diversity - a topic so many other reviewers have also commented on. We live in an era very different from the one that produced these books, even though it was only 20-30 years ago. It does not make it okay to exclude diverse casts of characters, but at the same time, nothing about those books is going to change now. So instead of constantly going on and one about how white upper middle class the books were, save the critical analysis for a book that is set up to be just that. In fact that would make an interesting book and I would read it, but this one is practically a bait and switch. It pulled me in with the promise of nostalgia for books I read and reread and reread until they fell apart, but then hit me over the head time and again with how this lack of diversity is awful and we are all bad people for loving these books. You know, when we were kids. Okay, so the author does not go so far as to say we are bad people, but man, it really felt like that was an underlying current sometimes. Luckily, though I no longer read teen and YA books, this problem is being remedied every day. There are a slew of amazing books coming out all the time that include worlds and characters now more reflective of our time and place. Having representation in reading material is so crucial, especially if we want to make sure all kids have the opportunities to learn to love reading.

I did love the cover. it was just about the only thing that was perfect here. If that cover doesn't scream 80s and 90s teen lit, I don't know what does. I really, really love the cover.

So instead of a lighthearted celebration of teen lit from two-three decades ago, we get a book that is critical of the entire genre - and the snark isn't even funny, it's just mean. Being objective, and completely eviscerating are two totally different things. Maybe Moss felt like if she did not complete talk down on some of these books, she would lose some street cred or something, because seriously, I do not know why she chose to write about this topic - though she stated upfront she was a fan. Perhaps the author would have better served her subject if she had taken on the task of discussing why these books became so popular - particularly The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley - and allllll the spin-offs (not to mention movies and/or television shows).

The final blow for this one, the reason it truly should be no more than a one star rating, was the complete lack of attention to the Baby-Sitters Club series. There was hardly anything at all written about that series, which was arguably bigger than Sweet Valley. It was completely unacceptable that so little ink went into giving that series the same attention that others received. On the other hand, as I think about it, perhaps that is for the best, because maybe had she devoted more attention to it, she would have torn it completely apart just like all the others.

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