A couple of months ago I was looking through books on Pinterest, when I came across some young adult novels from my youth. I was surprised by how clearly I could remember the characters’ names, plots, settings, etc. For instance, who could forget about Mariah, who moved to Palm Springs and fell in love with Paul Strobe?
Rich, cute, and secretly cancer stricken, Paul seemed out of Mariah’s league. She dismissed him as a spoiled brat, but of course he turned out to be wonderful. They fell in love and had an amazing, though short-lived, romance. I still cringe when I think of how she destroyed her antique vanity by sticking a P.S. I Love You bumper sticker on it after Paul passed away. Yes, I remember the entire book, despite having read it probably just once, twenty-five years ago.
Ditto for A Summer to Die, The Gift of Magic, and every other book Lois Duncan or Lois Lowry ever wrote.
There are definite themes in the books I favored as a child. I loved people who were dying. They seemed wise and detached in a way that inspired me. In high school I used to enjoy hanging out in graveyards. I’d pack myself a picnic and go there to think serious, sad thoughts and write Edgar Allen Poe inspired poetry. Probably because of all the morbid books I read as a kid.
I loved books about miniature people, or mice living like humans. I could picture the tiny, parallel world they lived in, and am still mesmerized by dollhouses and miniatures, perhaps because of the books that inspired me as a kid.
My favorite characters, though, were orphans. Pippi Longstocking and Anne of Green Gables, with their red hair, and parentless, carefree ways, were my greatest inspirations.
I liked the Trolley Car Family and the Boxcar Kids, and pretty much anyone who could run away and turn an abandoned transportation device into a home. I realize now how hugely these books affected me, how they made me want to write as an adult, and how they shaped what I write about. This particular theme comes into my writing quite a bit. I remember staring for hours at this floor plan, below, of the trolley car makeover, and designing my own trolley car home.
And where would we have all been without Judy Blume? She created characters and story lines that were as real as the kids who read her books. She singlehandedly taught the majority of American kids in the 1970’s and 80’s about puberty and sex. Our parents really ought to thank her. I visited her website and discovered she even wrote Growing Up and Liking It, the obligatory pamphlet for middle school girls.
These books strongly shaped my life. They taught me about new places, people, religions, and ideas. They answered my questions, entertained me, and made me a better writer. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates books that are honest with children. Or honest with anyone, for that matter. Judy Blume’s books, in particular, frequently end up on banned book lists.
Do you have a particular book or author who made a big impression on you? If so, I would love to hear about it!