1. Girl by Blake Nelson (1994)
The plot: Originally appearing as a series in Sassy, the novel follows Portland high schooler Andrea as she explores the grunge and indie-rock scene, experiments with thrift store fashions, and (of course) her relationship with a shady downtown-type boy. A mix of innocence and darkness.
How it changed you: This book is a picture of ’90s culture; for some, this may have been your entry into your education of the best of Gen X.
Sex aka the best part: Yes. Both consensual and non-consensual.
2. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (1994)
The plot: Surprisingly, a story about a girl living in the year 1290 can be hands-down awesome if it’s written in the right language. In diary entries, 14-year-old Catherine (nickname “Birdy”) cleverly talks about her life and the various potential suitors her father pushes her way.
How it changed you: Made you totally thankful that you weren’t forced to get married before getting your training bra.
Sex aka the best part: Meh, not really. Although Birdy talks a lot about marriage and observes grown-ups around her, there’s no explicit mention or action.
3. Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block (1998)
The plot: Dangerous Angels is actually a compilation of Block’s first few short novels, which, together, are more commonly referred to as the Weetzie Bat books. We begin with Weetzie Bat, a whimsical teen living a fairy tale-like life in L.A. The following stories talk about her friends and children. Block is famous for mixing the dark and dangerous with dreamy, sugar-coated imagery.
How it changed you: Made you want to move to Los Angeles, get a house in the Hills, braid your hair with feathers, ride in vintage convertibles, have gay best friends.
Sex aka the best part: Yes, but it’s generally treated in a different, less obvious/graphic ways than typical teen sex. It’s often talked about in terms of gender, culture (as a darker thing that can kill you), or as a weird magical connection to someone. Although one book does get quite dark.
4. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (1997)
The plot: In this very Cinderella-like fairy tale, Ella is sent to live with her two evil step sisters. The twist is that Ella has been given a curse which forces her to obey any command. Things get complicated when she falls in love with a prince named Char, but doesn’t want her curse to get in the way.
How it changed you: It might not have. But it certainly made the Cinderella character more relatable and much cooler.
Sex aka the best part: No. But much of the plot deals with Ella’s potential (and eventual) marriage to Char.
5. Wise Child by Monica Furlong (1989)
The plot: A fantasy book set in Scotland during the Dark Ages, a 9-year-old girl is sent to live with Juniper, a sorceress/witch/spiritual something-or-other, who teaches Wise Child the tricks of the magical trade. The main conflict involves Wise Child’s biological mother.
How it changed you: Confirmed your hate for your own mother; made you want to run away and live with a mysterious, magic lady.
Sex aka the best part: No, but there’s definitely an element of female obsession in the characters’ relationships.
6. Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth by Patricia Clapp (1991)
The plot: A diary of a young girl who is an early settler at Plymouth.
How it changed you: The relationships in this book were kinda hot. For a second, it almost seemed appealing to get married and live in a little house with your crush.
Sex aka the best part: There are a few pretty steamy scenes in here. There’s no full-on sex (although at the end, it’s implied), but the stories about Constance’s multiple suitors can get pretty passionate.
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