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‘Shelf Discovery’ Book revisits coming-of-age books

August 31, 2009

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Sometimes, teen books aren’t just for teens.

“I see a lot more people coming back to reread them to their kids and introduce them to (the books),” says Joyce Steiner, youth services coordinator for the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

Classics such as “Little House on the Prairie,” “Harriet the Spy” and the Nancy Drew series present coming-of-age tales, often geared toward women, that have stood the test of time.

That’s the premise of “Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading,” a new book by Lizzie Skurnick.

Skurnick, who writes the Fine Line blog for Jezebel.com, wanted to write about how important these books are in the process of becoming a woman.

“What I loved about these books is they took us seriously,” Skurnick says.

Her favorite books from the genre are “Jacob Have I Loved” by Katherine Paterson and “Secret Lies” by Bertha Amos.

With the rise of feminism in the 1960s, and with a new generation of woman authors, came books that discussed class in society, puberty and other topics.

“There were suddenly all these questions about what it meant to be a woman,” she says.

Book by book, “Shelf Discovery” examines the lessons of books in several categories, including heroines, danger, girls going through puberty, gifted/talented girls, old-fashioned girls and romance.

Other titles include “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume, “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin, “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell and “Fifteen” by Beverly Cleary.

“Most of the books have been banned or challenged,” Skurnick says. “These represent a country that was much more fractured and much more interesting. I feel very lucky to have lived in a time when those books were in the bookstore. I fear that many of them will be lost.”

Steiner says many teens still identify with the characters in the books Skurnick writes about, even though some of the books were written decades ago.

“When you’re going through it, it’s comforting to read about it,” Steiner says. “It somehow meets a need to read about someone else’s experience.”

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