Real Chick Lit: Love & Life Lessons From Young Adult Novels

During my junior high/early high school years, I consumed young adult series like my life depended on it. Maybe in a way, it did. I read obsessively about my favorite characters and their packed weekend social schedules of dances, pool parties, tropical vacations, exciting dates, beach parties….trouble was that I was spending my weekend nights reading about these events. The conundrum is that the girls reading these books were the bookish, indoor type — not the ones out and living this life.

My books were my only clues to how to meet and talk to boys. In my endless pawing over my glossy-covered series, my impressionable mind sensed some distinct themes.

If I had a nickel for every time Elizabeth Wakefield and Todd Wilkins had a fight, I’d be richer than Bruce Patman and Lila Fowler combined.

1. Having Genetic good looks gives you a huuuuuuuge advantage Um, duh. Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, those infamous Madonna/whore twins from Sweet Valley High paraded around with perfect size-six figures, aqua-blue eyes, and silky blond hair. You know this worked because it drove the notorious playa Bruce Patman to untie Jessica’s bikini top in the pool. (The scandal!) Alas, my Eastern-European-Jewish genetics didn’t help me out in that department. I needed another way.

2. A great outfit makes the woman (and attracts the boys) I’ve been rereading lots of my old books and some of it actually reads like retail porn. Whole sections and several paragraphs are given to outfit descriptions. Thanks to our favorite fashionista, Claudia Kishi of The Baby-Sitters Club, the best fashion advice is to close your eyes, go into a toddler’s room, grab about 10 items, and wear them all at once. This consisted made hip and daring. Striped suspenders with lime green pedal pushers and prairie boots? Ok. Your dad’s button-down shirt over bike shorts worn with rain boots? Check. Earrings shaped like fruit? Essential. YA outfit descriptions were kind of like runway fashion- hip in theory, never worked in real life. I had to just trust that my coordinating E.J. Gitano outfit from the Pretty Plus section of Sears would do the trick. Turns out, it didn’t. (For the record, I did have a perm, just like Stacey McGill.)

3. Boyfriends are not for conversation Turns out, once you do snag the guy, there isn’t much conversation that needs to be had. From what I read, it needs to mostly be terms of endearment and pseudo-baby talk. Or your boyf is a mode of transportation to get to and from the dates, weekly school dances, or parties. The rest of the time is filled with talking about the actual relationship or spending time making up and breaking up.

If I had a nickel for every time Elizabeth Wakefield and Todd Wilkins had a fight, I’d be richer than Bruce Patman and Lila Fowler combined.

This was disconcerting to me, because I wanted a boyfriend not only to boost my ego, but to have someone to talk about how awesome the recent episode of Growing Pains was, or to talk about the New York Rangers Stanley Cup Win. Apparently I was working so hard at getting a boyfriend only to talk to him like he was an infant.

4. Even when guys let you down, you friends will always be there for you Luckily, there was some positive message about female bonding. Even when Logan Bruno was acting pig-headed, the rest of The Baby-Sitters Club would be there to cheer Mary Anne up by throwing a kiddie poetry slam or organizing the neighborhood kids in a production of Annie. The gals from the Taffy Sinclair series even formed a self-improvement club called The Fabulous Five.

By the latter half of high school, I had moved on to my Christopher Pike and VC Andrews obsession, still none the wiser about having an active love life. As I am approaching thirty, I can’t say I know what I am doing. Is there an actual tangible how-to on how to navigate relationships? Nothing is the substitute for real experience. Unfortunately.

Robin Hershkowitz had the quintessential Long Island suburban experience of hanging out at the mall, swooning over Bret Michaels and Sebastian Bach, and wearing E.J. Gitano. Now turning thirty, she has the strange desire to relive painful memories by rereading all the bad 80s young adult classic series like Sweet Valley High, which she blogs about at The Dairi Burger. Robin finally found her way to California (and not because of the Wakefield twins) and works in higher education administration in the San Francisco Bay Area. She spends her time watching improv, obsessing over Battlestar Galactica, being vegan, scowling, and criticizing pop culture.

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