Drugs, sex, terrorism. It’s all there on five shelves in Lisa McAnnally’s bedroom. The twelve-year-old seventh-grader guesses she’s read between sixty and seventy teenage romance novels in the last year. That makes her a minority among American young people-a recent Gallup survey showed that only about one in five teenagers had purchased a book in the last six months-but right in the mainstream among the young adults who do admit to reading for pleasure.
Young adult romance series are rolling off the presses of virtually every publishing house that produces paperbacks. Dan Weiss, president of Cloverdale Press, the original packager of teen romance series, estimates that these books make up a $40 million industry. Bantam Books’ best-selling series, Sweet Valley High, accounts for more than 20 million teen romance books in print. This boom in puppy love-lit raises the hackles of literary purists, but its defenders see it as an acceptable means of encouraging literacy, a steppingstone to a lifetime of real reading.
McAnnally has read and traded with her friends all thirty-one volumes of Sweet Valley High plus the four super editions and the new set of prequels about the Sweet Valley twins, Elizabeth and Jessica. She’s read books from the Cheerleaders series by Scholastic and two other Bantam series, Winners and Sweet Dreams. Lately she’s been reading G.I. Joe books. Other popular series include First Love from Silhouette, Campus Fever by New American Library, and The Zodiac Club by Pacer. “The books are a good reference source,” McAnnally says. “My mother encourages the reading.” But at least one teacher wouldn’t allow the books in his classroom.
A new series published by Archway Paperbacks boasts of being “the first real soap opera for teenage girls.” Author Rosemary Joyce, a former Miss New York State, says she uses techniques learned as an actress on TV’s “Search for Tomorrow” to create the cast of characters featured in each month’s new Dream Girls novel.
Joyce is proud of her plot lines, which often deal with the struggles that go along with drugs and alcohol, family relationships, and sexual conduct. “I have to laugh at those who say these romances are worse than not reading at all,” Joyce says. “There’s nothing wrong with wooing kids to books. Libraries should be more like McDonald’s; they should give kids the literature they want to read.”
But story lines like those in a Dream Girls novel elicit groans of disgust from critics. “These books are evidence of distorted values,” says Mary Kathryn Hassett, part owner of the Book Merchant and a former high school teacher. “They are shadows of adult romances that deceive young people into believing that the accoutennents of life-jewelry, cars, makeup-are what’s important.”
Most librarians and booksellers use words like “safe pap” to describe these books. Lisa Hulbert, a librarian in the Dallas Public Library’s current collection, admits the books aren’t great, but says they do have their place. “The habit of reading is important. They might go on to reading other things; they might accidentally pick up something else and actually like it.”
NOUVEAU BROKE PRICE INDEX
When your face continues to smile long after the punch line, when friends can read messages in the crow’s feet and laugh lines etched into your cheeks, you know February’s flurries have gotten the best of your complexion. The wrinkled masses may find their remedies in bulk at Sam’s Wholesale Club, but for those willing to spend hard cash for cold cream, there are a myriad of moisturizers with prices as varied as their ingredients.
Stendhal Crème Anti-Rides,with sea urchin extracts, $100 for 2 oz. at Stanley Korshak.La Prairie Night Cream, with placenta of black sheep, $75 for 1.2 oz.; available at Neiman-Marcus.Lancaster Suractif Day Treatment, $55 for 1.7 oz. at Haltom’s.Lancome Forte Vital, with natural placenta, $47.50 for 1.6 oz. at Sanger Harris.Estee Lauder’s Swiss Performing Extract, $20 for 1.75 oz. at Lord & Taylor.Clinique, with mineral and sesame oils, $9.50 for 2 oz. at Sanger Harris.Pond’s Cream and Cocoa Butter, $2.99 for 3 oz. at Food Basket.Nivea Cream, $2.99 for4 oz. at Eckerd Drugs.