BOOK REVIEW: Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss

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This is an entertaining journey back in time for many teenage girls reading in the 70’s, 80s & 90s.

I liked the concept of the book, it is easy to read or just to flick through, written in a journal style. It has clear chapters with many front covers of the original books. It is designed for the American market and many of the titles described I didn’t recognise, however it was still enjoyable. I liked how the author was able to link the books to changing societal history which made it more interesting and culturally relevant. It also has to be acknowledged, that many books released in the UK at this time, were originally from USA along with American style magazines such as Just 17, and it was the first time books for teenagers were written specifically with them in mind.

Until this time, it was old wives tales, whispers of sex between friends, or if you were very lucky a parent willing to have that conversation. Books previously were mainly anatomical or conventional stories, such as The Outsiders or What Katy Did.

Paperback Crush is a positive and interesting insight into how teenage fiction was originally written and how it has evolved: conventional & stereotypical – white middle class girls, no sex, the trials and tribulations of boyfriends, always with a happy ending, but still trying to tap into a teenage girls head and heart! The covers looked flirty and had an undercurrent of sexual exploration and desire, but not as risqué or diverse as today’s writing or imagery.

It is interesting to see in such a short period of time how teenage fiction has changed, from conservative mini-series, to Twilight, fantasy and of course Harry Potter. It also highlights how these books followed trends in society.

It wasn’t until 1973 when Judy Blume first explored teenage sex and relationships in any detail and in 1976 the first same sex romance ‘Ruby‘ was published. Annie was released in 1982 with 2 females on the cover, it caused outrage and cries for it to be banned and removed from school libraries.

In 1981 the World was to change, with the US Media reporting cases of HIV & AIDS and sexual experimentation became a ‘risky behaviour’ . The world became terrified and obsessed in equal measure! Behaviours were sensationalised such as drug dealing, sexual contact or even fear of kissing. It must be remembered that this was the first new infection found in many decades and there was no cure. True facts were few and far between and Media coverage sensationalised unprotected sexual intercourse as did these books, even suggesting kissing was risky.

In 1988 a couple founded the first African American publishers: ‘Just us books’, which are still available, that offered a non-stereotypical viewpoint whom young black teenagers could relate to. The first novel to have a modern Asian American protagonist was published in 1992, and it eventually went on to win acclaimed awards.

Teen Fiction continued to follow trends and explored divorce, teenage angst, suicide and mental health -long before they were recognisable issues: Sweet Valley High is a good example. Later in the 90s the books moved into the darker side of human nature including stalkers and vampires. Bizarrely Stine Jam: to become world acclaimed horror writer Stephen King wrote a number of teen fiction in the 1990s alongside Fear Street!

These popular novels specifically developed for young teenagers have been a constant follower of recent social changes: beginning with the sexual revolution in the 50s/60s, contraception, pregnancy, and women’s standing on society, work; health, divorce and teenage trauma are all part of this literary journey.

Originally sweet and angelic with happy endings, emotive but always exploring love, lust, tension and trauma. Enjoyed by many a teenager, becoming fully absorbed in the moment and engulfing the emotion until the end. A perfect way to be introduced to the full array of literature, the ebb and flow of a narrative, the trials, amusing, emotional or horrific but still completely compelling. There can be no better way to be introduced to fiction and reading as a lifelong pastime.

Paperback Crush is published by Quirk Books and is available here.


Gabrielle Moss


Gabrielle Moss is a features editor at Bustle and the author of GLOP: Nontoxic, Expensive Ideas That Will Make You Look Ridiculous and Feel Pretentious (HarperCollins, 2016). A self-proclaimed “elderly tween,” she has written for Slate,, The Hairpin, and many other fine publications. She lives in New York with a massive collection of BSC books.
Twitter: @Gaby_Moss

Reviewed by Amanda Brightman




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