My sister is my favorite person to go back in time with. Two and a half years my junior, she was just young enough to be considered a pest, but close enough in age that we still get giddy remembering the cartoon we’d watch before school in 1988. (Beverly Hills Teens, anyone?)
Another of our shared guilty pleasures is revisiting the YA books we cherished way back when. It started when we were both in college, “laying out” in my parents’ backyard with nothing to read. One of us went inside to look for magazines and returned with a gigantic cardboard box filled with Sweet Valley Highs. Getting lost in the world of the Wakefield twins turned out to be as deliciously nostalgic as a King Cone from the ice cream truck—and a summer reading tradition was born.
There are so many reasons why these books are worth rereading, especially in summer. Obviously, the nostalgia factor: June, July, and August are “remember when?” central. They’re super-light, literally, so you can tuck like, six of them in your bag. And they’re relatively easy, breezy reads—teenage angst notwithstanding.
This is one I haven’t read since junior high, but I’ve been meaning to revisit it. My vague memories involve an overweight teen named Marcy whose dad has anger management issues and a teacher who gets unfairly fired, inspiring Marcy to action. I do remember being attached to the follow-up novel, There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, featuring a now-thin but still awkwardly relatable Marcy working as a camp counselor.
The Judy Blume Teen Collection
You could spend a whole summer reading the entire Judy Blume oeuvre, from the hilarious Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to her adult bestseller Summer Sisters. But if you had to go with one (or five), choose these coming-of-age stories starring Margaret, Deenie, Davey, Katherine, and Tony. I feel so close to these characters, they’re like my childhood best friends. It’s surreal to revisit them as a 40-year-old mom, long past all those momentous firsts we dreamed about together. I’m older and wiser, but they’re exactly the same, and it’s a whole new perspective.
Anything Lois Duncan
Way before Hollywood went and ruined I Know What You Did Last Summer, my sister and I pored over Duncan’s intriguing mix of suspense and adolescent turmoil. Killing Mr. Griffin wasn’t just a story about high schoolers who accidentally murder their teacher, it was about a loner who finally gets noticed by her crush, and inadvertently gets mixed up in the whole mess. The heroine in Locked in Time is getting over her mom’s death when her dad marries a mysterious woman with a supernatural secret. And Stranger with My Face is like The Parent Trap with an evil twin who knows about astral projection.
These might technically be Children’s Books rather than Young Adult, but I’ve reread the series every few years since I was in the second grade. Part history lesson, part family saga, part coming-of-age tale, it’s the mostly-true account of what life was like for a pioneer girl starting as a toddler and ending four years into her marriage. Despite devastating grasshopper plagues, brutal winters, and lives built on uncertainty, there’s also a lot to envy, like strong family ties and neighbors who took selflessness to heroic heights.
If the adventures of the Ingalls family get too wholesome for you, there’s always the scandalous escapades of the Foxworth/Dollanganger clan. It’s your basic Gothic nightmare, complete with an incestuous brother-sister duo, their incestuous parents, an evil grandmother, an ornate Swan Bed, and lots of money, whipping, and ballet thrown in. Flowers in the Attic was written first, but I started with the last-written prequel, Garden of Shadows. Any order you choose, you’ll want to scrub yourself clean after—far from grandmother’s steely eyes.