Grown-Up Reads

Just For Fun

If You Were a Teen in the ’80s or ’90s, You’ll Love These Books

by Iva-Marie Palmer

There was a time before texting and Snapchat, before streaming endless television, before being able to snap a selfie and get the opinion of a dozen friends on your outfit for the evening. Before “promposals” and friendships based on memes. Adults who came of age in the pre- and post-Internet world of the 1980s and ’90s surely remember that time (and maybe even miss it). If you enjoy giving into nostalgia for the kinds of books and entertainment you fell hard for in the ’80s and ’90s, I have good news: You can revisit those teen feelings through books! Here are some adult and YA reads that will fire up your ’80s and ’90s teen daydreams.

  • If you loved “Sixteen Candles”…

  • Sloppy Firsts

    by Megan McCafferty

    McCafferty’s five-book Jessica Darling series begins with this book that captures all the feels of teenage torment. With clever humor in the style of John Hughes, a million laugh-out-loud lines, and a burgeoning teen romance that will make you alternately wish you could fall in love for the first time again and also never do that, you’ll likely scarf this and its four follow-ups down in no time.

  • If you dug Nirvana…

  • Girls on Fire

    by Robin Wasserman

    Oh gosh. Wasserman’s book does not go down easy. Like Nirvana’s music and Kurt Cobain’s tragedy, it clangs inside you and leaves an echo after you shut it. Wasserman’s debut novel about a feverishly built female friendship centered on rebellion and secrets is terrifying, compelling, and electric.

  • If you were Christopher Pike’s biggest fan...

  • One of Us Is Lying

    by Karen M. McManus

    If you caught yourself devouring as many paperbacks as Christopher Pike (a.k.a. Kevin Christopher McFadden) could deliver and still find yourself wishing for a teen horror story with a perfect tempo, then McManus’s debut suspense novel might sate your appetite. Said to be "The Breakfast Club" meets "Pretty Little Liars," the story centers on five students walking into detention and only four leaving. (Because, of course, one of them is dead.) Fast-paced and grabby, the only flaw in this suspense novel is that when you finish, you’ll be anxiously awaiting the next release from McManus.

  • If you didn't love hanging out at the mall...

  • Hairstyles of the Damned

    by Joe Meno

    Meno’s book is a truthful coming-of-age story that sugarcoats nothing about what it’s like to embrace your non-conformity (sometimes other people will be jerks about it). The story follows punk teen Brian as he navigates his all-boys school, a family who doesn’t get him, and a passion for punk music and everything it represents. Set in the 1990s on the South Side of Chicago — a place that doesn’t always get much attention in popular fiction — the conversational and truthful style of the prose will feel reminiscent of your own awkward teen thoughts.

  • If you made a lot of mixtapes…

  • Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs

    by Dave Holmes

    An outsider looking in is always excellent territory for a memoir (because it’s an ever-relatable trope), but the shifting outside and inside perspectives are what make each story unique. In Holmes’s case, he was a closeted gay kid making his way through the hallways of a Catholic high school populated by dozens of heartthrobs — all straight guys. Through songs that run the gamut from Springsteen hits to En Vogue singles, Holmes builds a playlist narration of his life, which also includes the time he almost-by-accident became an MTV VJ. This hilarious story of self-discovery covers all the bases of growing up different in the ’80s and ’90s.

  • If you loved “You’ve Got Mail”…

  • Attachments

    by Rainbow Rowell

    Do you remember Y2K? (It was when the year 2000 struck at midnight and everyone thought the world would pretty much end. It didn’t.) Rowell’s novel is set in a newsroom at the end of the millennium as IT guy Lincoln works to steady the newspaper’s computers and gets a peek at the email exchanges of movie critic Beth Fremont. With plenty of great banter à la Nora Ephron, who wrote “You’ve Got Mail,” and of-the-era pop culture references, this will fill the void of anyone who wishes for a good old-fashioned rom-com.

  • If you were a fan of early hip hop…

  • Solo

    by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess

    Readers with a love of hip hop music from the 1980s and ’90s will appreciate both the powerful and nuanced free-verse writing style and musical theme of this YA collaboration between bestselling author Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess. Seventeen-year-old Blade grew up in a musical family — his dad is a world-famous rock star and his sister is trying to make it in the business herself. When Blade uncovers a secret that sends his world — and his family — crashing down, he finds himself turning to music and lyrics for comfort, understanding, and guidance.
    (On sale: 8/1/17)

  • If you totally dug “Back to the Future”…

  • The Future of Us

    by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

    This young adult novel, set in 1996, marks a memorable time in the lives of ’80s and ’90s kids: just before the Internet started to become everything. Asher and Mackler play with time-travel tropes as high school students Emma and Josh log on to the Internet with an AOL CD-ROM (remember those?) and see their 2011 selves on Facebook.

  • If you wished you belonged to the Baby-Sitters Club…

  • Paper Airplanes

    by Dawn O’Porter

    No, you won’t find any adorable young charges in this novel, nor will you feel inspired to start a babysitting business (like we all did when reading Ann M. Martin’s series). But, if you loved the unlikely friendships at work among Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey, you’re in luck — O’Porter delivers a slightly aged-up version of that, set in mid-1990s Guernsey, U.K., with seemingly mismatched pair of friends navigating teendom together.

  • If you can recite “Clueless” from memory…

  • Eligible

    by Curtis Sittenfeld

    A book that can take the place of Alicia Silverstone’s Cher and friends? As if! But actually, Sittenfeld —who has penned excellent novels like Prep and American Wife — executed Eligible with a similar tack: While “Clueless” set Jane Austen’s Emma in a modern L.A., Eligible reimagines the Bennet sisters of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a Cincinnati family reunited after their father’s health scare. The five unmarried sisters face a crumbling childhood home, a matriarch eager to get Jane married off before she turns 40, and a new-in-town doctor, Chip Bingley, fresh from a part on the hit reality dating show, yes, “Eligible.” No doubt that whatever they’re doing now, Cher and company would make this an instant book club pick.

  • If you had a subscription to Sassy magazine…

  • Boy

    by Blake Nelson

    Blake Nelson’s cult favorite Girl came out in 1994 and continues to transport a reader back to that heady time when you weren’t just coming of age, the whole world was changing, too. Told in the same style, Nelson’s recently released Boy captures the same authentic spirit, this time from the perspective of Gavin Meeks, who starts to question his Big Man on Campus status when he meets dark, dramatic force of nature Antoinette. Nelson, who actually wrote for Sassy magazine, has a way of channeling the stories that exist beyond the margins and you feel that much more interesting for getting to share them.

  • If “Blade” blew your mind…

  • Talon of God

    by Wesley Snipes and Ray Norman

    “Blade” was a commercial success when it was released at the tail end of the ’90s, kicking off the era of modern live-action superhero films and cementing Wesley Snipes in history as a kick-butt, vampire-hunting superhuman. If you’ve wondered what Snipes has been up to more recently, look no further. He has collaborated with Ray Norman for his fiction debut, Talon of God, an urban fantasy that promises all the action and adventure of “Blade.”

  • If you miss ’80s- and ’90s-era supermodels…

  • Tuesday Nights in 1980

    by Molly Prentiss

    Remember Ru Paul’s song “Supermodel (You Better Work)” from 1993, wherein he namechecks Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, and Niki Taylor? Chances are you do if you were fashion-obsessed and lived inside glossy magazines as a teen. If those high-style daydreams had you thinking about the day you would live in a big, fashionable city, Prentiss’s novel is sure to grab you. Her depiction of NYC at the dawn of the ’80s captures not only the drama of city life, it actually makes you feel like you’re a teen again, imagining it all for the first time.

What were some of your favorites from the ’80s and ’90s? 

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