Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Review: Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick

I LOVED this book. I unreasonably, unabashedly loved this book! I found it completely necessary to listen to music from 1987 while writing this review.

Although I knew this book was all about books I loved, I was a bit reluctant to read what’s essentially a compilation of reviews. Seriously, reviews usually aren’t very compelling, even when they’re about wonderful books. Ms. Skurnick completely won me over not only by her enthusiasm (and her honesty about only reviewing books she loved, none she disliked, mildly hated, or hadn’t read previously) but also by her understanding of deeper meaning in these books and her healthy irreverence. When she called out young Mary Ingalls for being a bitch, I laughed for a good 5 minutes, repeated it to 2 friends the next day, and really am abashed that I didn’t have the gall to say it first. (Yes, Mary is a very nice girl later after she goes blind, but before that she’s a prissy pill.)

I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the reviews of the book I haven’t ever read (Harriet the Spy, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Down a Dark Hall) as much as the ones I have (Domestic Arrangements, A Little Princess, Are You There God It’s Me Margaret) but instead what I should have been worried about was the almost irresistible impulse to run out to the nearest library and check out all the books I’ve not read (sadly, I suspect most are no longer available in my local bookstore, if not out of print.) I have read 32 of the reviewed books (33 if you count Clan of the Cave Bear twice, because there are two reviews – one by a guest reviewer) which is a lot! But it still leaves me with quite a reading list. Which is great since I’m doing a YA reading challenge this year.

This book inspired such warm and fuzzy feelings of my own years reading middle readers and YA that I have been wracking my mind to make my own read list more complete in those areas on goodreads. I have managed to remember The Trouble With Thirteen, This Place Has no Atmosphere, and The Animal, the Vegetable and John D. Jones. But I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the book about the mother dying with the pink trim (Apple Paperbacks perhaps?) where the girl sits on her roof and eats a Reuben sandwich (which was completely foreign to me growing up in corned-beef-less Tennessee). Also the book about the girl who was terrified of public speaking. I have now tasked my mother to ransack her garage and attic to look for a box of books from my childhood bedroom. I think this year I will end up frequenting a lot more library sales and the like to see if I can track down Karen Kepplewhite is the World’s Best Kisser or Your Old Pal, Al.

The Pre-Teen and Teen years are pretty much hell for everyone. Books helped get me through. When I was being picked on by everyone at my elementary school, books reminded me that I was not alone in that problem (in fact, I’ll bet a disproportionately high number of authors were picked on themselves in school.) When my parents divorced, I was given a copy of It’s Not The End of the World (and the main character’s name is Karen!) When I wished I was an orphan, Mary Call of Where the Lilies Bloom reminded me that wouldn’t actually be nice. When I sucked in ballet class, I had the example of Petra in Ballet Shoes to show that everyone doesn’t have to be a prima ballerina; some people have to become famous aviators. That’s what I mean when I say they had deeper meaning. Not that there is rich symbolism and allegory (although sometimes there certainly is, see C. S. Lewis.) But that these books had great meaning in teens’ lives. They made us feel less alone, resourceful, and made us see stories of kids who’d been though much worse and survived (Tiger Eyes). They were examples of independent young women getting by on their own terms (Anastasia Krupnik, Sarah Bishop, Sally J. Freedman), sometimes there is sadness (A Summer to Die, With You and Without You), sometimes there is love (Love is One of the Choices, any Sweet Valley High book), and sometimes you just really hate your siblings and it’s okay (Who Put That Hair in my Toothbrush?) (Not all the books in this paragraph are in Shelf Discovery.) From the ages of about 8-13, books were my best friend. I love Shelf Discovery for reintroducing me to them (and for introducing me to so many new ones!)

PS, this book could have used one more proofread as there were several typos.

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