Trying to identify one book that turned me into a reader is like trying to pick one word to be my favourite, whereupon I give you THE DICTIONARY. I’ve never not read. I came out of the birth canal with a book in my tiny hand.
In a house filled with books, reading was like breathing. There was Truman Capote and Sylvia Plath, Saki and P.G. Wodehouse. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle was pressed into my hands the minute I turned 13. We had a bookcase full of YA before we called it that: impossibly glamorous American books by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume, filled with such foreign escapades as yellow school buses and baloney sandwiches and summer camp.
The first one was called Zoey Fools Around.
This book was wildly complicated. The world-building moved faster than a Point Horror, setting up the island, the backstory, who was dating whom, that Zoey was a wannabe journalist whose older brother dated beautiful Claire, who worshiped the weather and had a younger sister named Nina, Zoey’s best friend.
Nina was my favourite. She wore bright red lipstick and smoked an unlit cigarette long before The Fault In Our Stars’ Augustus. They all talked like grown-ups, cleverly, but about love, boys, school, sex, bras, life, ambitions, food, parties, scandal, friends.
This was before Dawson’s Creek was a twinkle in Kevin Williamson’s eye, before Buffy hit terrestrial TV; but after My So-Called Life had given British teenagers a taste of American adolescent pop culture. To a dorky English 14-year-old, the Making Out series was television in book format. I wasn’t really allowed to watch television, so…
I ate it up. When my meagre pocket money wasn’t spent on chips or make-up, I would buy a Making Out book. There were 28 to collect!
My literary snob parents were aghast.
I tried telling them: move over, Jack Kerouac, this was experimental fiction! Prose from multiple points of view, interspersed with handwritten excerpts from each character’s diary, transcripts, newspaper cuttings, letters and chat-room conversations…
It was the first time I’d read a book that was this much fun.
And hello, the BOYS. Wiry and dark Lucas, fresh outta juvie—the Ryan Atwood of the island. Beefy, dumb Jake was the Dawson. Clever, sardonic Benjamin was Xander, and witty, ambitious Christopher was a black Pacey Witter.
It’s only as I write this piece that I realize Making Out’s subconscious influence on my next YA novel–which is set on an island–features a meteorologist-obsessed girl, ferries, red lipstick, and small-town Americana. My literary snob parents will be aghast…