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However varied in setting and topic, these books share a concern with social issues that Skurnick finds less prominent in fiction today. “When I was growing up, there was this wonderful flourishing of books about being black and being Jewish,” she said. “There was such an interest in these ‘issue novels.’ Like ‘Goodbye, Columbus’ really was considered a book about Judaism, and it was, and it was fascinating.
“It was a time of ‘The personal is political.’ There was always this mix of memoir and history. We’ve re-entered that time in some respects, but now it’s taking place on Twitter and blogs.”
Skurnick believes that today’s readers have much to learn from revisiting these books published in a “less careful” time. “It wasn’t only a progression from small-mindedness to larger-mindedness,” she said. “Most of the books from that era are much more detailed about racism and say more about the lives of Jews. I’m not sure we’re getting quite that level of rigor now. That was the era of the public intellectual and the big novel.”
Of her list, she said: “Every single one of these books is about significant things that happened in America. I sometimes think if an alien came down and wanted to know what America was like, I’d say, ‘Come look at my library.’”
This is just one reason that Skurnick so passionately believes that these books should remain in print in perpetuity. “I don’t want these books to go out of print ever again my lifetime,” she said. “If it’s within my control, I’m not going to let it happen. It’s a shande [shame] these books ever went out of print in the first place. I used to feel rage when I found certain books were out of print. It would be like taking M&Ms or, you know, croissants off the market!”
She plans to release the entire backlist of favorite out-of-print authors so that readers themselves can determine which of their long-lost Y.A. classics they want to read and collect: “I want to let readers make their own selection — to resurrect their own childhood bookshelf without necessarily resurrecting the childhood bookshelf of the entire universe.”
Skurnick predicts that her main audience will be adults who loved the books as teens — though, she adds, “I don’t believe in gearing books toward a certain market. We all found these books even though they weren’t marketed to us at all. We all knew we were supposed to buy “Flowers in the Attic” and “My Sweet Audrina,” but there wasn’t a Twitter campaign telling us to.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can never predict who your readers will be. Who knows, maybe 58-year-old dads will get a thing for M.E. Kerr. I’m thrilled whoever it is. I want children to read these books, and adults to read them, and generations of people to read and enjoy them.”
Laura Moser is the co-author of four young adult novels, the most recent of which, “My Darklyng,” ran as a serial on Slate.