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NPR Staff Confesses Love for 'Teen' Reads

We've all experienced it: the shiver of nervous excitement as each turn of the page unveiled new, provocative ideas.

Pause. Get your mind out of the gutter!

For our 2012 Summer Books series, NPR Books pays homage to Young Adult reads: an ageless genre that doesn't just transcend the boundaries of its target market - it knows nothing about target markets. As this year's stand-out element of Summer Books, "PG-13: Risky Reads" compiles first-person submissions from acclaimed authors (such as Jodi Picoult, Abraham Verghese and Lois Lowry) remembering books they may have read before they were quite ready.

Not surprisingly, each of our planning meetings quickly digressed into multi-generational chatter about the YA novels that we find eternally inspiring. Motivated by the effusive reaction, NPR Communications solicited similarly nostalgic narratives from various NPR staff and personalities. First up at bat? Tell Me More host Michel Martin:

"My first eye-opening read is actually a funny/terrible story. I read Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls –which I think I found on a bench somewhere -when I was probably about nine. I was so lame; I had no idea what I was reading. When I came across phrases like "sleeping together" and "having relations," I really thought it was about going to sleep and having relatives. I thought, I have relatives and I go to sleep, what's the big deal? And the references to "black beauties," I thought had something to do with horses. As I said: lame. I think I was halfway through it before I realized that I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

"But here's what I learned from it. I grew up in Brooklyn, in one of those neighborhoods that we now nicely refer to as "marginal" or "troubled," which is to say crack and other drugs were starting to take a heavy toll, families were breaking up, there was a lot of violence. It was pretty much an all black and Puerto Rican neighborhood. Valley of the Dollswas really my first exposure to the idea that even wealthy white people could have problems; could be addicts, could lose control. So that was news to me.

"The interesting thing is: when my mother caught me reading it, all she said was that she didn't think it was meant for kids my age, but then she let it go. I think she figured what I didn't understand would sail over my head. And since she was right, that's pretty much the approach I take with my kids and books. If they pick it up, I'll generally let them read it. I figure what they don't understand they'll just bypass or come to me and ask...we hope!"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Cara Philbin