Okay, we all have those books that we loved as preteens that are just embarrassing to admit now. I read all the time in middle school. It was a time in my life where there were endless literary choices, and most of the literary choices I made were…pretty cringe worthy. I genuinely loved each of these books at the time (and secretly still do).
1) Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard
Technically this isn’t a book. This is a massive, never-ending, life consuming series. I have been known to humble-brag that I was a PLL fan before it was turned into a (also iconic) TV show. If you saw me anywhere from the ages of 11 to 16, chances are I had one of these books in my hand. Of course I didn’t know going into the first book it was going to be a decade long commitment. The truth is that after the first 8 installments of the series I felt like I was in a bad marriage. I grew to hate these juicy books I once loved, but kept reading out of pure obligation. The 4 liars I rooted for reluctantly in the beginning slowly turned into far worse people than A ever was. Spencer Hastings was especially irritating! Spencer could never figure out who she wanted to be, and her motivations changed abruptly between each entry. A long journey it was indeed. 19 books, 8 years, 3 A’s, and 2 Alisons all cultivated into one disappointing conclusion. Looking back, it seems as if we were fooled by that sneaky Sara Shepard. She had us on the hook for 8 years and nearly 20 books before she revealed who murdered Alison.
2) The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
This is another YA book series I lived for in middle school. I begged my school librarian to pre-order each entry of this summer romance trilogy so I could read them fresh off the presses. Jenny Han was already my favorite author (Shug was my jam). In 6th grade I even wrote Jenny Han a fan letter begging her to get Shug adapted into a movie and to cast me as Anne-Marie…that’s how movie casting works right? Before Netflix adapted To All the Boys I Loved Before, Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty was every 13 year old’s relationship goals. The protagonist Belly is a fellow freckle face who spends every summer at a beach house with her family and her mom’s best friend’s family. She has grown up with Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher, and they’ve always looked at her like a sister, but this summer things change when she’s suddenly hot. Over the series Belly is torn between the two gorgeous brothers. Conrad is older, troubled, moody, and shows little interest in Belly (even while dating her). Jeremiah is funny, cute, sweet, and a much more stable, better choice for Belly. For the record, #teamconrad4ever. I loved these books so much at the time. They had summer romance, really funny moments, and a lot of heart. However, I can’t help but look back and think of how problematic the brother love triangle is! I mean, Belly is in serious relationships with both brothers practically at the same time.
3) The Boy Who Sneaks in my Bedroom Window by Kirsty Moseley
While the first two series on this list where very cool books in their time, and are still justifiably lovable; this one was embarrassing to read even at the time. The plot had so much potential, only to quickly slip into soap opera material that a 12 year old would secretly write after a late night marathon of Degrassi. The protagonist, Amber suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father when she was a child. In order to cope with the abuse her next door neighbor, Liam sneaks into her bedroom every night of comfort her to sleep, even years after her father is out of the picture. Sounds interesting right? That’s what I thought. However, this book has a TON of issues. Amber suffers from a common YA literary trope of “I’m so unbelievably hot that every man I ever come into contact with attempts to attack me.” The amount of times Liam, or her brother have to rescue her from a creepy man is ridiculous. The book fails to ever really flesh out the characters, reflect on the abuse, or take advantage of a good set up. Oh, and there’s the whole teen pregnancy is a happily ever after, problem solving, fairy tale ending thing. That was an interesting choice. I knew this book was cringe-worthy even in middle school, yet I still find myself loving the initial idea.
4) Talent by Zoey Dean
If The Boy Who Sneaks in my Bedroom Window is Degrassi, then Talent is the classic, Degrassi Goes Hollywood. In this YA series (are you sensing a pattern here?) local L.A middle school girl named Mac discovers Hollywood’s next big thing. Mac spots Emily who is visiting Los Angeles from Iowa. Convinced she’s the mini Meryl Streep, Mac convinces Emily to move to L.A and becomes her manager. It’s a dream come true for Emily, but becoming an instant success in Hollywood is harder than she and Mac thought. This series is about pursuing big dreams, backstabbing, but most of all friendship. I loved these books because I could slip away into the fantasy that I was Emily being swept up in the Hollywood glamour. Although looking back now, it’s crazy that a 12 year old was able to convince countless movie industry professionals that she was Emily’s manager. But I guess that 12 year olds probably do look much older in L.A. It was truly a tragedy when the fourth book in this series was never published, leaving us all wondering what happened to our two main starlets. This series wasn’t realistic, but it was a very harmless, wholesome series that will make any young dreamer want to keep reading.
Although these books are embarrassing for me to admit loving as a brace faced preteen, I still do have a special place in my heart for all of these books. I think it’s silly to ever regret a book I’ve read. Each book I read becomes a part of me. These books especially give me that warm nostalgic feeling from a simpler time, but one I’m definitely glad I’m beyond now.
What are some of your most embarrassing literary loves from middle school?