What I Think Happens In Popular Young Adult Novels (That I Didn’t Read)

When we were “young adults” I feel like Harry Potter was the only acceptable book series to tout being a fan of. As of late, there’s been a trend of reading YA novels to be “cool”, and the authors are considered superstars. Like John Green and his entire bibliography or The Hunger Games and Katniss braids left and right. Reading teen lit isn’t something to be ashamed of anymore, and as an adult, I feel a weird opposite reaction to this, in that I sort of feel ashamed I HAVEN’T read the most popular series in YA.

For our first day of TEENS BE READING Week, our companion to YALSA’s Teen Read Week, we’re giving our best guess as to what these books are all about – even if we have no clue where to start.

Sweet Valley High

Blonde twins, Ashley and Jessica, live in Sweet Valley, California and the series chronicles their their normal teenage life. They attend the titular Sweet Valley High, and encounter drama with friends, drama with boys and drama with each other. They probably fight over the same boy at one point, and do the good ol’ switcheroo to get make sure one of them passes a driver’s test or something. They also have a mortal enemy in the most popular girl in school, Lizzie, who has hated them ever since they were in second grade when they (accidentally) embarrassed her in gym class. Also the twins’ parents are divorced, and they split time in between houses, which also causes drama within the family.

The Maze Runner

The setting: dystopian future, specifically the U.S. The government puts all kids starting at the age of 14 through a rigorous test to be in the military (defense from the Canadians). If they don’t pass, they get three more tries, and if they fail, they go to live in what is now the South on labor fields. The final portion of the test is a huge maze (in New Jersey), which includes multiple traps, logic puzzles and endurance tests. Dylan O’Brien, on his third and final test, decides both options, whether win or lose, are horrible, and attempts to fight the power. Hence, The Maze Runner. The subsequent books are about the repercussions of him running through the maze. I’m also assuming there’s some kind of romance going on at some point because, young adult.


Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison have a showmance and it ends with a public scandal of her cheating on another vampire who is married. Taylor Lautner is literally so hot he has to have his shirt off at all times and Anna Kendrick is better than this entire franchise.

Lord of the Flies

A group of kids are stranded on an island in Micronesia and have to fend for themselves. They start a new civilization, led by a kid named Mowgli who’s always drinking coconut milk and attracts a lot of flies.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

After the death of her mother at age 12, Margaret is sad, confused, and doesn’t know where to turn. Her and her family would go to church occasionally throughout the year, but not religious by any means. As she enters a new chapter in her life without her mother, she finds herself asking a lot of questions, and feels like the only person (or entity) that can help her is one she can’t even see.

Go Ask Alice

This is written in the style of a found diary or autobiography, and is unattributed in a Blair Witch-y way where it’s supposed to be real but it isn’t. Alice is a normal girl until something bad-ish happens (parents’ divorce, maybe?). Then she gets peer pressured into trying “dope” (I’m never 100% clear on which drug “dope” is supposed to be so I just use it as the generic word for the kinds of drugs you learned about in the D.A.R.E. program). Things spiral and long story short she ends up homeless and faces a whole slew of Cautionary Tale problems, like cutting, eating disorders, and premarital sex. Shouldn’t have tried that dope, Alice.

A  Wrinkle In Time

Meg, a bookish girl from a garbage family, discovers a magical object/place/ability/person, which allows her to travel through time. But she doesn’t travel through normal time, she travels through Game Of Thrones, Lord Of The Rings-y time where everyone’s a dragon or whatever. She meets a cute boy who is sensitive but also a little gruff. There’s some sort of monster/ event / astrological phenomenon that threatens Meg and the cute boy, which they have to outsmart and outrun to make it back to the normal world. They do, but they never forget that wrinkle. The wrinkle… in time.

The Outsiders

Let’s say you’re a teen and nobody really “understands” you. You’ve read The Catcher In The Rye and have decided that everyone’s a “phony.” Your nice parents are totally obsessed with society and so are the kids at school whose parents have bought them cars.  You just know when you grow up you’re not going to have a 9-5 job and live in the suburbs, you’re going to support yourself somehow without working and live on the beach and not file your taxes ever. So you read this book, about a bunch of misfit, wrong side of the tracks 1950s kids who are all James Dean or something. It’s a bunch of boys who aren’t into acting like everyone else, and they live somewhere in the Midwest perhaps. There’s one girl in the group, like Anybody’s in West Side Story. Actually, the whole thing is kind of like West Side Story if it was about only the Jets. If your favorite book was The Outsiders in High School, you’re going to have a Bob Dylan poster in your dorm in college.

The Hobbit

Hobbits are basically these really quirky small people. They live in Tiny Houses and are obsessed with food and make up weird meals, like Fourth Meal, which the Hobbits are as excited about as modern humans are about Brunch. They live in Middle Earth, which looks exactly like New Zealand it turns out. And they dress in a lot of natural fabrics with tunics and low-slung belts. They’re mostly like hipsters. And kind of like the peasants in the Feudal system, where their whole year is punctuated by meaningless festivals and holidays to mark time and keep them joyful. And they’re sort of a little like rabbits, in that they like burrows and hanging out in little spaces and eating produce. Bilbo Baggins is one such Hobbit, and he has to go someplace or find something. The Hobbits are good guys and the bad guys are always kind of like evil wizards or bad trolls, things like that.


A boy, from modern times when the book was written but now clearly the 1970s or 1980s, gets stranded in the woods. It’s basically just him and this hatchet that he has. Thank God for that hatchet. He uses it to cut down trees and build a fort, to forage for food, and to survive in the cold, harsh world. The boy befriends a forest animal, who looks out for him. At one point he loses or breaks the hatchet and you’re like “nooooo!” But then he signals for help and you’re like “YES.” It’s a lot like My Side Of The Mountain, which I was obsessed with so I’m not sure why I didn’t read Hatchet.

Puberty Education & You (Or: Hey, Where’s That Belt Supposed To Go?)

The past few weeks, a video of an adorable preteen distributing tampons at sleepaway camp has been making the internet rounds. It’s..um… cuter than it sounds. Here:

This got me thinking of the educational materials my generation and before grew up on. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it:

The Pancake Video

This isn’t available online, but it is carved into my brain tissue forevermore. The year was 1996. Alanis Morisette was on the radio, and half of the heads in America were sporting “The Rachel.” It was a simpler time, until… until the permission slip came home informing our parents that the girls would be watching “the video” in school. You know. THAT video.

Unlike the other 9-year-old girls, I didn’t have to go through the embarrassing show of presenting my mom with the permission slip – because my mom was the fourth grade science teacher. Yes, my mom was going to teach all of my friends about “becoming a woman.” More accurately, my mom was going to teach half of my friends about becoming a woman, because the boys got to play outside during all this. I could hear the carefree sounds of childhood out the window as the boys organized a kickball game, and my fourth grade social world crumbled around me. So you see, there’s no way I could forget this freaking video.

The premise is this: a diverse group of tweenage girls is having a campout in someone’s backyard. One of the girls gets her period, because if these videos teach you one thing, it’s that this shit always happens on some kind of a campout. So the girls trudge in, and the helpful Generic 90s Mom decides to teach them about what is happening to this child. Apparently their school didn’t have fine videos like this one, nor did it have That One Girl On The Bus Who Knows All This Stuff.

Anyway, you know what a bunch of pubescent girls need in the morning, as much as anatomical advice? BREAKFAST! Lucky for them – nay, lucky for US – Generic 90s Mom is a multi-tasker. She mixed up some batter, fired up the griddle, and got to work on some falopian tube pancakes. It was like those awesome Mickey pancakes you get at Disney, except actually horrifying and with the syrup probably representing uterine lining. You know at least one of those girls grew up to be one of those wackos who eats her placenta, and this Breakfast From Epcot Hell is why.

When the video ended, my mom fielded questions. Just what every tween wants — her mom talking about her Blue Water Time in front of all of her classmates. Still, at least she didn’t make a menarche-themed breakfast to illustrate the point.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Either we weren’t paying attention to that video in fourth grade, or we were too busy being traumatized to actually take in any of the information, but in fifth grade this book started making the rounds and it’s like it was totally new information. I blame Judy Blume for my entire generation being like “wait… I thought there was supposed to be some kind of belt?” Either way, I learned more from this book than any of those school vids.

No, Just Kidding, This Is Really Epcot Hell

If you were educated in the old school, maybe you got this instead of the pancake video. For a Disney vid, it really needs more talking animals.

The Most ’50s Thing You’ll Ever See, Ever

This is probably what my mom watched in school, presuming Catholic schools in the 50s didn’t just tell you that it was the devil giving you a papercut or something. Jeez… is THIS why she named me Molly? Of course this bitch is named Molly.

Sample Dialogue: “Peggy, I can’t go swimming, you know I’ve got the curse!”

By the by, these 40s and 50s vids are reallll concerned about you possibly catching a cold, which evidently does something to your uterus. Freezes it?

Here, This Flapper Gets Most Of It Right

Image links to the full brochure.

Image links to the full brochure.

And THIS is what my grandmothers probably got in school, in the pre-video age. The pamphlet suggests leaving this, one of those damn belts, and maybe some money for later therapy on your kid’s pillow when you know she’ll be alone. It’s like the Ding Dong Ditch version of parenting. Drop the sanitary belt and run!

Just Watch The Supercut

Supercuts: not just for disappointing but economical haircuts anymore.