Sunday, February 3, 2008

My Favorite Book as a Teenager

Tip of the Day: Never bet against New York, baby!

A friend blogged on her LiveJournal about a YA novel from the 1920s she picked up at a yard sale and how awful it is. How far we’ve come, she mused. Perhaps, but I have wonderful memories of my favorite novel when I was a teen. It was originally my grandmother’s. I never knew my grandmother; she died when I was 2, so I loved reading her book. By the time I got it, the cover and title page were missing, as were many other pages. As far as I knew, it was the book with no name. And it rocked. Hard.

The book was written in the late 1920s/early 1930s. Inside the book were three “contemporary” stories about a group of teen girls. Each story featured a different friend as the POV main character, ala Babysitters Club.

The first story starred Evelyn, who loved to read books and wanted to be a writer. Like me! What a coincidence! OK, maybe not that much of a coincidence. (Bonus tip: If you want readers to identify with your main character, make her like reading.) But she had the world’s coolest bedroom with a full bookcase and her own writing desk. And she was particular about her pens. How could you not love her? The plot revolved around Evelyn and her friends reuniting an orphan girl with her family based on clues they found in old needlework samplers. There was a general air of “oh, those poor oppressed girls in earlier generations who couldn’t speak for themselves and had to code their knowledge in their sewing!” I got an impression of Victorian teenagers imprisoned in red parlors, slaving away at samplers and seething with thwarted rebellion. No sewing for Evelyn and her friends—they were way liberated.

The second story starred Dorothy, who yelled out windows and made Evelyn look like a wet blanket. This time, the girls were off to a vacation in West Point (which meant they lived near me approximately!) where they encountered—gasp—boys!! They decided to name themselves the Linger-nots. I hated that name, but if it meant they were swooping on the cute boys ahead of the local girls, then I was all for it. Dorothy was always up for adventures with Roger and his buddies.

The third story starred Aline, and the Great Depression was starting to show. To help her family, Aline quit high school when offered a waitress job. I thought the name Aline was the shizzle. The girls were again reuniting an orphan with her extended family. I was willing to overlook the recycled plot because the MC matter-of-factly dropped out of high school to become a waitress. The YA novels published in my teen years never would’ve dared, at least not without a lot of head shaking.

I think this book started my love for YA literature and put me on the path to writing what I write. I had adult books and children’s classics on my shelf, but this old novel that my grandmother and my mother read when they were teens got to the heart of what I cared about: friends, boys, women’s rights, my crappy teen jobs. I read it over and over until it fell apart. About a year ago, I posted about this book on a “lost books” thread on Verla’s [insert link] and a wonderful blue-boarder told me my book was the collected “Linger-Nots” series. The original books are available on the used market for reasonable prices. I always say I’m going to buy them, but I never get to it. I’m afraid in the “real” book, Aline’s name isn’t really Aline and all those missing pages I filled in—probably with illicit meetings between Dorothy and her brother’s friends—have been edited out. Maybe the book reads better as a memory.

What was your favorite book when you were a teen, and when was the last time you read it? Do you think you’d still love it today?

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer


DeenaML said...

LOL! GREAT post, Kate. Cracked me up. I never heard of the Linger-nots, sadly, but how can you go wrong with multiple stories on reuniting orphans and hidden messages in stitchery? :)

I was ALL ABOUT the V. C. Andrews books as a young teen bc they were about teen girls, but had SEX in them! Omg! Scandalous! I haven't read one in years and now could never make it through the recycled plots/characters. But they certainly got me reading!

On the flip side, I was also obsessed with Sweet Valley Twins and The Babysitters Club. I think I read like the first 70 books of each before I "outgrew" them.....

Emily Marshall said...

Um, I was all about the Sweet Valley books and Babysitters Club like Deena. Slightly before that I was all into The Boxcar Children and some Nancy Drew. And I actually disagree with your bonus tip (ut oh, the A2A girls disagree), but I actually don't like it at all in teen books when the main character likes to read. I can "sort-of" live with wanting to be a writer, but only if done well. Not sure why. I think maybe because as a true teen, I was too busy with tons of other stuff to even think about reading except sporadically. I guess that's why there's bunches of books. Something for everyone.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

This is a tough question! I loved mysteries of all kinds, like Nancy Drew and, I don't know if any of you remember these...Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators series.

But I think one book that really made me want to write was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It had it all! This is my early teenhood. Through high school I got in that "heady" stage where I fell in love with English Lit and the harsh messages of writers like George Orwell. It's that revolution instinct in me, I guess!

Kate Fall said...

OMG, I loved the V.C. Andrews books. I gave up after the first few, though. Like ghost girl, most of what I read in high school were the classics. I was kind of an English Lit snob. I got over it, though!

Em, I was kind of tongue-in-cheek with the bonus tip. I'm actually not sure how I feel about this one. As a teen, I liked books where the MC liked to read, especially if it was part of the plot and not just tacked on there. (I still love Evelyn's obsession with pens and paper. That was cute.) But I've always hated reading adult books where the MC is a writer. Like, come on! Do we have to write what we know so literally?! My one exception would be Donald Westlake's The Hook, because it's so off-the-wall.

Kristina Springer said...

Great post! I was a HUGE Girls of Canby Halls fan! I had the entire series I swear (20 or 30 books). Actually, I'm fairly sure they are in a box in the house somewhere still. That was followed by the Sweet Valley high series and then Babysitter's club. And I can tell you that when I found out like a year ago that Francine Pascal didn't actually write all of those SVH books I was devastated. I thought she was like the best writer ever. :-)