In her new book, "Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading" (Avon, $14.99 paper) blogger and
Jezebel.com columnist Lizzie Skurnick (along with a few contributors) revisits the golden age of young adult fiction, from the early '60s to the late '80s, offering witty and irreverent takes on dozens of novels, including "Blubber" and "Harriet the Spy." She sat down with us recently at a Brooklyn cafe to talk about her enduring passion for YA literature.
Before the 1960s, it was hard to find relatable characters and stories in YA fiction. You cite Beverly Cleary as one author who helped redefine the genre. Who else?The early Lois Duncan certainly did, like "A Gift of Magic" and "When the Bough Breaks," which is about a girl considering an abortion. Certainly all of Paul Zindel in the '70s. Robert Cormier. M.E. Kerr's "I'll Love You When You're More Like Me." And Madeline L'Engle. Everyone knows "A Wrinkle in Time," which I love, but I'm thinking of "House Like a Lotus."
How did these books help you navigate your own adolescent years?They helped me in knowing that I was allowed to have complex, complicated feelings about things. At school they're always trying to teach books with big lessons - like "The Red Pony." You don't want to think about that. You want to think about being jealous of your sister or being shamed by a teacher. These books let me know that life was messy.
You mention having missed lots of references - especially sexual ones - when you originally read the books. I certainly missed a lot in Judy Blume's "Then Again, Maybe I Won't."Sure, you might miss a joke, but the point is that book is really about much more. It's about the fact that Tony is in a new place; it's about class; it's about growing up, the shame that you feel, the changes of adolescence and being out of control.
Because these novels were written mostly by women, do you think they're not taken as seriously as they might have been?Oh absolutely. I think some of Norma Klein, and some of Judy Blume, is as interesting as what Philip Roth does. It's sad that these are not seen as seminal American stories.
What do you think about parents monitoring their teenagers' reading habits? Many parents have slammed the "Twilight" series.I take a dim view of telling other people what to read. What I liked so much about this period of reading in my life is that no one was paying any attention to what I was reading, or why I was reading. People don't give teens credit for being able to enjoy a book while still seeing its flaws.