Unsuitable books for teenagers

Move away please……nothing to see here!

I came across this article in the Guardian written by author Patrick Ness (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer etc) in which he talks about books that are meant for adults but seem to hold so much more appeal for teenagers (especially as adults don’t appear to like teens reading them!).

Some of the books he includes in his list are The Catcher in the Rye, The Stand, Dracula and The Virgin Suicides (the latter I would most definitely had tried to get my mitts on aged 13 had it been around then – oh the allure of that title and the  curiosity!). This then got me thinking about books I read as a teenager and what books had me blushing into my soda stream.

Back in the day, pre-Edward Cullen, pre-Katniss Everdene and not a fallen angel in sight, what on earth did we used to read to help us navigate our way round those strange and confusing teenage years when there wasn’t such a thing as YA books (remember those days?):


  Exhibit #1 – falling in love

Yes, were I a teen today my boyfriend longing may look very different: for a start the object of my desires would probably either have fangs, wings or change into a big hairy dog during a full moon. Back in the day though, I wanted me a nice boy!

At about the age of 14 I became a massive fan of Maeve Binchy (I haven’t read any of her books since I was a teen so I am curious about what I might think today). The one I really loved was Echoes about a girl from a large family with not much money who lives on the coast of Ireland. Clare was the only girl in this family and she studied hard, to the bemusement of her family, as she wanted to make something of herself. Up the road, in a large house, lived David, a few years older than Clare and the only son of a well-to-do family. David fell in love with Clare and…..oh, how I wished I was her! This was SO romantic and I longed for it to be me (or at least for a nice boy to fall in love with from a distance and then declare his undying love for me……swoon!)



  Exhibit #2 – sex

My best friend Claire found a copy of  If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon and promptly navigated  me straight to the “dirty bits”. Boy did this book give me a rude awakening in the world of sex – and not the sort that Maeve Binchy would have written, but proper adult sex! I can vividly remember being shocked but also laughing my head off (in embarassment? in fear? in longing? who knows…) I’m sure whatever was written in that book is pretty tame and I’m sure it would be a massive let down where I to read it again today, but back then it was practically pornographic!



  Exhibit #3 – pregnancy out of wedlock

Perhaps I lead a sheltered younger life, more probably I was very lucky to come from a family where both parents were together and my friends all came from the same backgrounds too. Put it this way, I didn’t come across many people who a) were single parents or b) had a baby out of wedlock or c) both. So when Claire (are you seeing a trend here?) introduced me to The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Read Banks….well!

When I read this book aged about 15, for me it was all about the shock of someone moving into their own little flat and having a baby on their own (without being married). I don’t remember much else about the book, just being ulta-curious about the (then) taboo of being pregnant and alone at a time when my teenage head was trying to work out how my future might look. It was a real eye-opener, was this book.

I actually have a copy of this book again, 24 years later, and plan to read it again soon to see what my take on it would be now.



    Exhibit #4 – honourable mentions

I can’t end this post without mentioning some of the other “grown-up” books that crossed my teenage path:

The Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews – did anyone NOT read this as a teenager? I read this book several times back then and swiftly followed it with Petals on the Wind and If There be Thorns.

Firestarter by Stephen King – I can remember being more obsessed with the fact that while in the experiment room, people pissed themselves. This was my first foray into the nature of human psychology and the lenghts people will go to (and take). It frightened me, but I couldn’t put it down.



So, that was a fun old blast from the past for me. Did you read any of these either as a teenager or later on? What books can you remember hiding under your covers when you were 13?



36 thoughts on “Unsuitable books for teenagers

  1. i also loved s e hinton (the outsiders) and go ask alice

    sidney shelton and jacqueline suzanne were our go to books for the sex!


  2. I was into beat writers at that age listen to the doors read jim morrisons bio and it talked about the beat writers Burroughs and Kerouac so read them ,also george Orwell was big favourite typical teenage boys reading I imagine boof , all the best


  3. I read Maeve Binchy in my late twenties and devoured most of them. I guess we all have a stage like that.

    In my teens, I loved the V. C. Andrews books but I also remember reading Dutch literary authors and The Russians. Which I wouldn’t want to read now! Isn’t that funny?

    Ah, the Maeve Binchy books? Maybe you were in your teens when I was in my late twenties? And that’s when the books were published? Just guessing!


  4. I have never read V.C Andrews,so i can’t really comment there… i spent most of my childhood living in the middle of nowhere,and the only access to books i had was the mobile library and whatever books my friends mum nextdoor was reading…. i would pinch my nans mills and boon and read them in the field or tucked away in the shed… my friends mum read Jilly Cooper so we read them too lol!
    I did manage to get my hands on THAT Judy Blume and my first proper introduction into horror would be Christopher Pike (i loved Chain Letter) The Point Horror books (i still have my favourites) Richard Laymon and then Stephen King..

    I think i’ll add that V.C Andrews to the wish list 🙂


    • Yes, you must read Flowers in the Attic – it’s a right of passage! In fact, I quite fancy giving it another read too now I think about it (will be a blast from the past).

      I love that you read Bills and Boon while hiding in a field! 🙂


  5. I read every single book that VC Andrews and her heirs ever wrote as a teenager. There must have been 30+ of them, but I loved every one. I also read a few Danielle Steele books and then started on Mills and Boon – I learnt everything there is to know about romance that way 🙂


  6. ah yes, THAT Judy Blume. A very dogged eared copy of that made its way around my school. Also I have to give a nod to The Thorn Birds, family sagas are great when your a teenager.


      • Oh Boof… Are You There God?…It’s Me Margaret… you HAVE to read this!

        The waiting list for this book was HUGE!! when i got it,it fell apart in certain places… its not dirty smut at all… i don’t want to spoil it for you, but back then when it first came out it,it was everything us girls wanted to know but for whatever reason,we just didn’t..

        ….those were the days 😉


      • It was ‘Forever’ LOL very tame I’m sure by todays standards but it was teenagers having sex rather than adults which is what appealled I think


    • When you said THAT Judy Blume, I thought you meant Forever, not Are You There God; that went round and round all the girls in my school – there must be entire generations who cannot hear the name Ralph without snickering 🙂


      • Yes.. i also meant Forever,a whole chunk of my message went awol lol

        yes Ralph…when i got my library copy it fell to pieces at the ‘rug’ part 😉


  7. I love Catcher in the Rye, The Virgin Suicides and Dracula – I read them when I was around 18 , I think. I read all the Sidney Sheldon novels between ages 12-14; the strange thing was I hated his books and yet I read them because they were “forbidden” to me 😀


  8. I must have lead a really sheltered life because I don’t remember ever reading anything under the bedclothes like this. My teenage reads were all detective fiction of the golden age. How boring can you get! Now, by the time I was teaching in the 80s, my ten and eleven year olds were all reading Judy Blume’s ‘Forever’, but they didn’t do it under the bedclothes, they read it openly in the classroom in an attempt to shock me. Fortunately, by then I was unshockable.


  9. One of the books on my reading list going into 9th grade was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Wow, that one had me blushing and frankly disgusted at parts.


  10. I remember saying this to someone recently: it’s a low point in children’s literature when books like Twilight make the list of must-reads. Okay, so I didn’t finish the one Twilight book I started, because I thought the protagonist wasn’t strong enough – she was toooo wimpy.

    After my Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy/Sweet Valley/Fear Street/Three Investigator days, I moved on to Ken Follet, Sidney Sheldon, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer. Read some Ayn Rand as well, and obviously, Catcher in the Rye, which is one of my all-time favourites. Also read the Harry Potter books when I was fifteen, as that’s when they became quite popular.

    In a world of Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl and Twilight and … don’t know what else, I think I was better off. Sorry if I sound slightly snobbish, but, it is true.


  11. I ran into this blog accidentally and I’m very, very pleased it happened (it is often said best things happen by coincidence, right? ) Very interesting topic, I remember there weren’t many books I was hiding under my mattress, I believe one of them was “We, children from the ZOO train station” by Christiane F., I was really interested to see what is it about but was kind of aware it isn’t really suitable for a 12-year old. Other then that, there were some love stories, now and then, and mostly every book with even the slightest notion of sex in it 🙂


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