hether you were a voracious kid reader or not, the chances that you read a book that deeply moved your adolescent self are high — even if it was just the required Catcher in the Rye reading in 8th grade. Blame the malleable state of our brains at the time, but the things we consume as pre-teens and teenagers, no matter how curious or innocuous, have a way of nestling into our brains for the long haul.
For this round of MR Book Club, in honor of Nostalgia Month, I asked team Man Repeller to peek into their memories and tell me about a book that served as some kind of identity tentpole in their early life. The results are precious and, you guessed it, nostalgic. Read through to see what we chose, tell us which you also read (with the appropriate number of explanation points) and then add your own below. See you back there.
Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
Picked by: Haley (hi), Deputy Editor
Why does this book stand out in your mind? After seeing others’ recommendations, I started to second guess my choice. I read and was impacted by so many different books in my teenage years — many that I remember much more clearly than this one, but I’ll simply never forget the absurdly intense way Sloppy Firsts made me feel. It was a story that followed a modern teenage girl through very average trials and tribulations. This book was not famous or poetic or mind-blowing, but I thought of Jessica Darling as myself, and that just plain ruined me. I blame the particular organization of my hormones at the time.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? Literally sobbing on the floor of my bedroom at the end of the book while listening to an album called “The Everglow,” by my favorite band at the time, Mae. This book is actually part of a series, so it’s possible I’m thinking of another of the books (Second Helping or Charmed Thirds…), but regardless: I can scarcely think of a time I was so outrageously adolescent. That is to say: core-shakingly moved by something objectively unimportant.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? I’d be so curious to re-read, but I assume it’s not so different from the thousands of YA novels that are set in a modern high school and follow the female protagonist’s friendships and love life. I’m sure plenty of it hasn’t aged well; the protagonists of these dime-a-dozen books were always a particular kind of girl that I’m sure many didn’t feel reflected them. That I did was undoubtedly a privilege.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Picked by: Patty, Head of Partnerships
Why does this book stand out in your mind? This is the first book in the series but I loved the full trilogy, it concluded when I was exactly 12! I loved adventure fantasies growing up, and as a young kid in Catholic school I remember being very intrigued by the critical take the book has on religious authority. The characters are lively and wonderful too, particularly Lyra, the young protagonist who had a knack for mischief and is an exceptionally talented liar.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? I remember crying during the last book. I won’t give it away but young romantic love is shared in such a way that, even though I didn’t experience it myself, the articulation of that yearning broke my tween heart.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? I think I need to make more time in my adult life to read books with witches and armored polar bears and “daemons” (a.k.a. an individual’s inner-self that manifests throughout life as an animal-shaped “dæmon” per Wikipedia). I miss them. They made me ponder physical, philosophical and theological debates in a really imaginative way.
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Picked by: Louisiana, Visual Assistant
Why does this book stand out in your mind? My Uncle Johnny gave me a copy of this book for my birthday (or was it Christmas?) when I was starting primary school! It was my first introduction to poetry, which I appreciate thanks to its fun approach.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? My English teacher brought in a copy of his book one day and made us read his poems for class (specifically “Stop! Thief!”) over and over again to practice our reading skills. I still remember the entire poem by heart.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? I still really love it! I like how there is still meaning and messages in his poems while still being fun and not completely serious and complicated. I think the “child-like” nature of his poems is what makes it still enjoyable for me because I just can’t bring myself to read or appreciate poetry that is super deep and conceptual with all its hidden meaning.
Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Picked by: Starling, Social Media Associate
Why does this book stand out in your mind? Although I loved Spinelli’s Stargirl, the sequel, Love, Stargirl, really made my youthful self feel ~seen~. The sequel is written in the format of letters to a boy that rejected Stargirl before she moved to a new town. Like Stargirl, I too had a tendency to navigate my teenage crushes with wistful melodrama cloaked in complete secrecy.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? My first grade English homework is proof that the first 50% of my signature has been a criss-cross star since the day of its creation, so I was immediately drawn to the first book cover’s use of symbols. I first read the sequel at 11 years old when it came out in 2007, and then read it annually in the eight years that followed. The way I read the intentions of individual characters shifted as I became the same age, and then older than the main character.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? Sometimes I think about Dootsie and Alvina and Perry and forget that they aren’t actually people I know.
Gremlins Don’t Chew Bubblegum, by Debbie Dadey and Marcia T. Jones
Picked by: Harling, Fashion Editor
Why does this book stand out in your mind? I was absolutely obsessed with the series that this book is apart of (The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids) when I was in elementary school. There are more than 50 books in the series and I’m pretty sure I read all of them. Can you imagine doing that as an adult??? It sounds so luxurious. Gremlins Don’t Chew Bubblegum was one of my favorites.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? It was the first time I had ever heard of a gremlin and I really liked how the word sounded in my head every time I read it.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? Given that every single grown-up in the series turned out to be a supernatural creature I’m surprised I never accused my parents of being werewolves or leprechauns. A missed opportunity, in my opinion.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Picked by: Matt, Head of Operations
Why does this book stand out in your mind? My very cool indie neighbor gave me a copy of this book during the summer of my junior year in high school and I read it so many times that the cover became so tattered that I had to remove it entirely.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? I remember reading the book for the first time (probably listening to Weezer and drinking a Jones soda) and experiencing Charlie’s world through his eyes. I identified with so much of what he was going through — so many emotions, so much volatility, so much brooding — and it made me feel less alone in a world of high school melancholy.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? I still see the book as a story of growing up. While unspeakable tragedy occurred in Charlie’s life, and while lots of questionable things happen throughout, at its heart, Perks is a story of adolescence. It’s a story of navigating the complex and nuanced emotional battlefield that is high school in the absence of an entirely supportive family system and most simply it’s a story about a bunch of people trying to do their best. The book served a very specific purpose during a very specific time in my life and I will always appreciate it for that.
Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss
Picked by: Elizabeth, Market Assistant & Office Coordinator
Why does this book stand out in your mind? I remember having a stack of these next to my bed and reading them interchangeably (they’re a series, but it doesn’t really matter which you read first). I started my own book on a marble notebook with stickers on the cover and intimate stories within. So many were made up. My sister hooked me onto them. I’d steal her copies all the time.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? I remember writing one story about coming home from summer camp to a brand new baby sister (don’t have one) and a redone bedroom (that didn’t happen either).
How do you see the book now, as an adult? Um, they’re genius and I will share these with my future kid. They are like a little art project AND make school-ruled notebooks cool! The author Marissa Moss must be a clever mother.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Picked by: Leandra, founder
Why does this book stand out in your mind? I read it recreationally when I was 12 years old — which was the first time I was tasked with the religious obligation of fasting on Yom Kippur and maybe my reaction was so visceral because I was hungry, but more likely it was the first time I recognized the transformative power of storytelling. I rejoiced when Beth recovered then cried when she died — it was deceiving but also a welcome rollercoaster of emotion I endured on behalf of these fictitious characters. If it’s possible, too, I think the book showed me that a person’is interests can expand beyond their obvious proclivities. At 12, I think I thought I was the sum of my Lip Smackers, PVC backpack and Clueless obsession, so I surprised myself by resonating so deeply with this book.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? Lying in my twin bed at my parents apartment, sporadically remembering my thick, empty Yom Kippur breath.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? I have not formally revisited the book, but if you need me to, I WILL.
The Dear America Series, by various authors
Picked by: Nora, Managing Editor
Why does this book stand out in your mind? I lost! my! mind! for these books. Post-American Girl/Little House on the Prairie, I graduated to these first person accounts of different eras in American History. The one I remember the most was the Titanic one which was extremely my 11-year-old shit.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? Ordering a million at the book fair, feeling fancy because they were hard cover and had a ribbon you could use as a bookmark.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? I’m sure there are some glaring issues with it, but apparently they re-released in 2010 and expanded their coverage. But I think this was a great way to bridge the gap between historical fiction for kids and then real deal historical fiction books. And all books should come with a ribbon bookmark.
The Clique Book Series by Lisi Harrison
Picked by: Simedar, Partnerships Strategist
Why does this book stand out in your mind? Mostly because I remember being so obsessed with it and because it led me to also be a terrible pre-teen for a few months of 6th grade. I poured through those books and in general was going to devour anything related to fancy clothes, shopping and being a bougie girl from the suburbs (yes, I am shaking my head with you.)
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? This is SOOOO embarrassing, but essentially after reading the first couple of books, I was inspired to start my own clique of sorts. I literally wrote invitation letters to my friends and, if I remember correctly, we all came up with a set of rules to follow. It definitely didn’t last long, but I do remember we color-coordinated our outfits for at least a year. That one stuck.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? I think these little kids are terrible!!! And also, how strange is it that so many books from the early 2000s were some rendition of Gossip Girl a.k.a young, privileged women bullying each other? I’m not sure if that says more about how adult authors viewed kids or what we kids were actually demanding to read. I’m also extremely embarrassed about starting a clique and it’s one of those memories I cringe at when I lie awake at 2 a.m.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith
Picked by: Imani Randolph, Editorial Assistant
Why does this book stand out in your mind? This book was introduced to me in second grade when my teacher read it aloud to the class; we were all cracking up from start to finish. The book is a hilarious distortion of classic tales for children; the Stinky Cheese Man is a play on the Gingerbread man. Similarly, there’s Little Red Running Shorts, rather than Little Red Riding Hood, and in this version, the young girl is triumphant against the wolf. Each story defies all the typical makings of a fairytale; they don’t begin with “Once upon a time,” words spiral across the page, characters take the wheel and narrate their own stories. I became so fascinated with the book that I made my mom buy me a copy from the school’s book fair.
What’s a specific memory you have in relationship to the book? I can’t recall many of the details of this story, but I remember being especially tickled by “The Princess and the Bowling Ball.” The sheer ridiculousness of losing sleep over an object that large rivals, if not outdoes, the cleverness of the same condition being attributed to a pea. Not to mention, the visual is just too good.
How do you see the book now, as an adult? I can now see how grotesque Lane Smith’s illustrations are and I am concerned as to why they didn’t disturb me as a child. However, I hypothesize that the rebellious weirdo comedy that characterizes the book was a neutralizing force. I think this offbeat middle ground — between strangeness, levity and disobedience — sparked me to realize that rules don’t always need to be followed.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.