There’s something about the books we read as kids that stick with us, regardless of whether they were particularly good. These days, I couldn’t tell you what was important about most of the canonical texts I read freshman year of college, let alone the plot of the light-read detective novel I picked up last summer at the beach. But somehow I can recall, with vivid detail, scenes from nearly every trashy preteen book series I devoured in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Yes, that includes The Nancy Drew Files and Sweet Valley High and The Baby-Sitters Club, all of which no doubt many women my age remember with a fierce fondness. But it also includes Sharon Dennis Wyeth’s short-lived Pen Pals series, about a quartet of roommates at an all-girls boarding school who strike up a correspondence with a group of boys, and Eve Becker’s fantasy-driven Abracadabra books, which chronicle the adventures of Dawn, a 13-year-old who suddenly gains magical powers. In particular, my drug of choice one long, hot summer were the Dark Forces books, a packaged series of occult-based young-adult horror that made me feel—crucially, at the age of 11—like I was getting away with something naughty.
I’m certain I don’t remember these long out-of-print series so well because they were works of genius. To the contrary, the storylines and writing were of relatively low nutritional value, as these things go.
“I started thinking of horrible things I could do to teenagers,” says the author Bruce Coville of the pitching process behind his contributions to Dark Forces, which include “Eyes of the Tarot,” about a girl named Bonnie who discovers a powerful deck of cards in her grandmother’s attic, and “Waiting Spirits,” which follows a pair of sisters who unwittingly make contact with a troubled ghost at their family’s summer house. Coville has since gone on to an impressively long career in children’s publishing, most notably with his My Teacher Is an Alien franchise. But in those earlier days, spinning sinister yarns for paperback originals aimed at young readers didn’t exactly boost his profile as an emerging author. Writing these types of books, as opposed to hardcover fare, “really consigned me to being below the salt for a while,” he says.
And yet, these are the books from my adolescence that I just can’t forget and, at least in part, I think it’s because they’ve been forgotten by most everyone else. I have wonderful memories of reading classic, famous works of children’s literature, too, of course: The Secret Garden, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Charlotte’s Web. But as an adult, the very fact that I remember Dark Forces—and that image of young Cassie Craig clutching her remarkably creepy toy on the cover of “The Doll“—feels like a special secret that I get to share with myself and few others, for as long as I live. It’s like a key, if an odd-fitting one, to unlocking my own personal story, my memories of childhood, my continued love of fantasy and horror novels. I adore these books because I grew up at a certain time, and was a certain kind of girl.
We’re kicking off Children’s Literature Week today at Atlas Obscura, and we want to hear from you: What are the books you remember reading as a kid that have stuck with you, but that hardly anyone else seems to remember? Send in your appreciations, remembrances, and love letters—a paragraph or two is plenty, though feel free to go longer if you’ve got a lot to say—to firstname.lastname@example.org by 1 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, June 15, with the subject line “Kid Lit.” Be sure to include your name, age, and where you’re from, and give us details about why you think the book (or series) deserves to be remembered. Examples can include everything from picture books to middle-grade readers to YA. We’ll round up the best responses and share them in a follow-up post on Friday.