Book Talk: “Shelf Discovery,” by Lizzie Skurnick

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

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading – A Reading Memoir
Lizzie Skurnick (blog)
Avon A (HarperCollins), 2009 (paperback original) (ISBN 0061756350 / 9780061756351)
Nonfiction/books and reading; 448 pages

Opening Lines:
“I can’t remember the book that made me into a reader. (God knows this would be a better story if I could!) All I can remember is that first I wasn’t a reader and then, suddenly, I was.”

Book description: Remember that book you read at that time in your life when everything seemed to be going crazy—the one book that brought the world into focus and helped soothe your raging teenage angst? Lizzie Skurnick does, in a book inspired by and expanding on her “Fine Lines” articles about memorable young-adult literature on

Comments: It’s been too long since I’ve started reading a book within a day or two of buying it, but I couldn’t wait to dive into this one. However, let me get a quibble out of the way first: the subtitle of this book, “The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading,” is using a very loose interpretation of “teen.” There are quite a few books discussed here that feature pre-teen protagonists and are more likely to be shelved as “middle-grade fiction.” In fact, quite a few of the book covers pictured are Dell Yearling editions, and my recollection is that those were recommended for ages 8-12; Laurel-Leaf Library was Dell’s young-adult line. I had plenty of books from both collections on my shelves back in the day.

Setting that aside, though, Shelf Discovery is a thoroughly enjoyable trip back through the books you may have grown up with – and the ones that helped you grow up – especially if you were growing up during the 1970’s and ’80’s. Lizzie Skurnick has been discussing YA literature, and how it’s influenced the women we’ve become, online for a while; those essays are expanded here, and joined by guest contributions from Laura Lippman, Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner, and others. The book is divided into ten genre/thematic sections, including tearjerkers, thrillers, romances, “issues” literature, and the adult, “dirty” books that we really were too young for; the essays themselves are labeled “book reports” or, for less-remembered titles, “extra credit.” (By the way, “essays” is too dry a term to describe the writing here, but it fits the form.)

Some of the books talked about here have been touchstones for a couple of generations, like Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and Forever… Blume’s fiction is featured in multiple articles, actually, as is Madeleine L’Engle’s. L’Engle’s “holy trinity” of teen heroines is discussed at length, with the premise that all of us were either a Meg (Murry), a Vicky (Austin), or a Polly (O’Keefe). (I was a Meg, definitely. Vicky always had too many boys flocking around for me to relate to her. Speaking of boys, how could I have forgotten Zachary Grey, the Heathcliff of my youth – or is he the non-vampire Edward Cullen? Oh, that’s right, I can’t stand boys like that. I probably blocked him out.) Then there are the books that were very much of their times, like Go Ask Alice (a “drug user’s diary” that isn’t even a real diary!) and Paul Zindel’s My Darling, My Hamburger (which I also mentioned in this post last year).

I re-encountered many books that have stayed with me over the years, was reminded of some I’d forgotten, and came across others that I hadn’t heard of before. Some of the books in the last category came out toward the end of my own YA years (I graduated high school in 1982), and it seemed like when I checked in on that part of the bookstore a few years later, many of the books I remembered – books with some substance to them, in addition to engrossing stories and memorable characters – couldn’t be found any more; it was all Sweet Valley High. (No offense.) But perhaps I was wrong back then. Many of my book-blogging, YA-lit-loving friends would tell me that I’m wrong about the YA books that are out there now. Reading Shelf Discovery has been a strong nudge in their direction.

Recommendation: For women who were avid girl readers, especially those in their 30’s and 40’s who enjoyed the contemporary youth literature of their time.
Rating: 3.75/5
Book #15 of 20 for the RYOB 2009 Challenge

If you have read and reviewed this book, please leave your link in comments or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT GMail DOT com, and I’ll edit this review to include it!
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  1. Great review! I'd love to read this. I wonder, did they mention "Flowers in the Attic"? In my Bible Belt neck of the woods, that was one of the "dirty" books we all sneaked a peak at. 🙂

  2. Amy ReadsFlowers in the Attic is prominently featured in the last section of the book. I never read it, but based on the excerpts – that novel is MESSED UP :-).

    You should definitely read this one. It goes quickly, and I'd love to know what you think of it!

  3. Belle – It's one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year, to be honest.

    Tam – It just came out last month, so hopefully it won't be too hard to find a copy.

  4. It's so nice to hear someone else say they don't remember what book turned them into a reader. LOL I really wish I did, but I don't. I imagine I would recognize quite a few titles from my pre-teen and teen years in there. I'll have to keep an eye out for this one. Thanks for the great review, Florinda!