This is quite a personal choice for Best Book To… Teenagers can be into everything, anything and nothing – where one loves stories about bleak dystopian futures, the other may only read Sweet Valley High. So when I looked back to my own teenage years when writing this post, I had to go with something I really liked, and the obvious choice was Point Horror. The branding first appeared in the early 90’s and dominated the following decade, launching the career of several writers. Anyone who remembers the series and read more than one or two of them will recognise names like Christopher Pike, RL Stine, Diane Hoh and Caroline B Cooney, and between them and others they wrote so many books it would take a pretty dedicated teenager to manage to read them all before becoming too old to enjoy them (though I must confess I gave it a good go, with around 30 titles on the list I compiled a few days ago. There may be more…)
These books were one of my gateways to a lifelong love of reading, and fuelled my passion for all things a bit out of the ordinary. They inspired me to try and write my own versions (which were not very good at all). Some of the books I remember were much better than others; some were a bit terrible and predictable even for a Young Adult book. There are several I know I read because I recognise the distinctive cover designs, but reading the synopsis leaves me none the wiser about what actually happened in the story. Others, though, were pretty entertaining, with more well-rounded characters with interesting motives. They were short and easy to read, with a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter, and even the occasional bad one didn’t put me off reading more.
Young Adult fiction has changed a lot since the late 80’s/early 90’s, and teenagers today I think often want different things from the books that are written with them in mind. But not every teenager has the will or the ability to read something like The Hunger Games or The Chaos Walking trilogy, brilliant as they may be, and Point Horror stories could still provide that introduction to reading thrillers/horror for those looking for a quicker and easier read. You can see that an attempt has been made to introduce the old Point Horrors to a modern audience, with the covers being changed and updated, but even so, I would probably only recommend one or two of the several dozen I read when I was younger to a 2014 teenager.
The author that sticks most in my mind is Christopher Pike. His books were less about American high school clichés that seemed inexplicable to me (proms, cheerleaders, quarterbacks, homecoming…), but included more sinister undertones, supernatural elements, and the dangers that can lie behind the choices that teenagers make. Many of them weren’t classed as Point Horror, I don’t think, perhaps because they were a bit heavier with more complex themes explored. The plots of his novels have stayed with me just as much as the memorable cover designs – a girl shoots two fellow students because she claims they are “monsters,” two teenagers return home after trying to run away to find the whole town empty, a sad young woman picks up two strange hitchhikers who weave a story somehow linked to her own life. It’s been years since I read one of these books, but I think I might try and find some of them now, and relive a bit of my youth.