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

ir?t=ishmom 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=1683690788Paperback Crush is the best book I’ve ever read ever.

Paperback Crush has reduced me to the platitudes and extremes of my seventh-grade self, as it contains every book, character, and series 7-13 year-old-me loved.

Remembering and revisiting this era in Gabrielle Moss’ ultimate guide to “pre-Twilight” Young Adult fiction was a delight. It seems that Moss’ story is my own, and so many other thirty-something women: we were voracious readers of these books until fourteenish, we “became less interested in being elected prom queen and more interested in the prospect of burning down prom with my eerie telekinetic powers.”

But damn, twenty years later, those Wakefield twins have stuck with me. Ditto that creepy marionette from the Goosebumps book. I still remember the order in which BSC members were added. And don’t get me started on what a truly gifted and underrated writer Christopher Pike is.

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Moss’ Existential Crisis Is Our Nostalgia Gold

I don’t think I’m alone in this! There was a certain pulse in Young Adult fiction in the ’80’s and ’90’s. Moss, myself, and so many others had our fingers on it. I’ve had so many conversations with women of a certain disposition and age, about whether they were a Jessica or a Elizabeth. I’ve whiled away time on Facebook discussing the respective merits of Fear Street vs. Goosebumps with like-minded strangers.

I imagine Moss restrained herself to the same until “that summer of existential dread,” when she bought herself a box of ’80’s and ’90’s teen paperbacks for her thirty-fourth birthday. She spent that summer in a form of “self-care” devouring pulpy novels, locked in her bedroom. Moss found what I think most of us would:

As I ripped through those books, I found more than nostalgia-though Jesus H. Wakefield, did I find nostalgia! I also found a record of my adolescent expectations-of the ideas about romance and womanhood and rebellion that had shaped me. I found the attitudes I’d end up embracing, and resisting, my entire life.

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How Many Boxes Did She Buy Though? Cuz Paperback Crush Has Them All

Remember Lurlene McDaniels? Paperback Crush does, giving teen “Sick Lit” its’ own section. The Baby Sitters’ Club series gets an appropriately large section, even delving into the cover art (did you know a baby Kirsten Dunst modeled for one of the early covers?). What famous writers were ghostwriters for these books back in the day? Moss spills all the tea.

Paperback Crush is skillfully divided into seven sections: love, friends, family, school, jobs, danger, and (my personal favorite) terror. These categorizations are pure genius; Moss corrals every teen book I can remember with these designations.


I audibly omg-ed and giggled my way through this book. Josh had to eventually quit asking me what was funny as he didn’t get any of the references. I knew I’d enjoy this unorthodox reference book, but I didn’t think it would give me genuine warm fuzzies and such feelings of contentment. Paperback Crush transported me back to Barnes and Noble with my grandmother, trying to unobtrusively read as many as the latest installments of the series Moss so gleefully reintroduces.

While lurid late-twentieth century teen paperbacks isn’t the most highbrow of subjects, Gabrielle treats these beloved works with care. In each chapter Moss walks us through the history of the genre, replete with examples, criticisms, and reviews. She brings up every book that makes you say, “oh my goodness, I forgot about that one!”

The Against Taffy Sinclair Club, The Fabulous Five, and The Secret Circle series made weird impressions on me and I’ve tried to remember the titles and authors of them before. Paperback Crush stepped up to the plate. There were so many books that it took seeing the cover to remember and recognize (cue a gasp when encountering the Face On The Milk Carton cover). Moss seems to realize this and provides many opportunities for gasps of recognition. It was fun to learn behind-the-scenes-tidbits about the genre through interviews with cover artists and authors.

Ish Mom holding Paperback Crush

You’ll Love It

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of ’80’s and ’90’s Teen Fiction is simply, a delight. This is the kind of harmless romp in nostalgia I can get behind. Let’s quit remaking every movie and series nearing it’s twentieth anniversary and celebrate these seminal, neon-colored, full-of-wrong-messages-about-body-image teeny-bopper tomes.

If this were a coffee table book in your home, a surprising number of guests will stop to excitedly rifle through it.

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What ’80’s and ’90’s books and series were your favorites? Let me know in the comments below. If you get Paperback Crush, take a pic and tag me on Instagram.

Check out my last book review here.

Happy remembering!




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Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.

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