The 5 Craziest Books for (Screwing Up) Young Adults
Critics say the Twilight novels are nothing more than porn for tweens. And more than just prematurely stirring loins, the relationship between Edward the 104-year-old high school student and Bella the clingy, awkward teen is about as healthy as a two-pack-a-day habit. Of heroin.
Heroin comes in packs, right?
Even though Edward's dropping red flags like an overworked official at a Tony Stewart sprint, his overbearing and controlling nature, coupled with his jealous rages, are taken as signs of love and commitment by Bella. The concern that the series idealizes abusive relationships and promotes sexism is understandable, but Twilight's not the only example of questionable content created for impressionable youth. There's a long standing tradition of trashy "young adult" novels filling the minds of prepubescents with lusty thoughts and ambiguous moral messages.
Steffie Can't Come Out to Play: Prostitution Is Glamorous
What would happen if you decided to run away from home at the age of 14? According to Steffie Can't Come Out to Play, some pretty cool stuff. Tired of life in a podunk town, Steffie takes off to pursue a modeling career in New York City, where she feels the only things that can possibly hold her back are her giant boobs. This was a simpler time, well before Kate Upton came along and finally proved that there could be a market for such a thing.
But before she can even test out this seemingly misguided hypothesis, Steffie abruptly switches vocational gears after she meets Favor, the handsome pimp hanging out at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Favor, who's described as "beautiful" and looking like he "stepped out of a fashion magazine," wastes no time in giving the impressionable Steffie the Pretty Woman treatment. Bubble baths in his luxurious penthouse apartment, dining at upscale restaurants, expensive jewelry, and of course, being decked out in the coolest clothes imaginable are just a taste of what The Life has to offer.
The Horrible Message:
For a cautionary tale about running away from home and ending up a hooker, the book spends an awful lot of time talking about the awesome fashions you get to wear while street walking, and not much about the gross sex you have to have with random strangers. In fact, they never even use the word "sex," or describe it in any recognizable way. When Steffie, a virgin, turns her first trick, the full description of her introduction to sexual intercourse / having sex for money reads, "It was like being underwater, where you don't hear anything, you don't feel anything." Because evidently, sex is like playing Marco Polo in a backyard pool.
It's cheating if you open your eyes.
That's it. Boning is never mentioned again. Soon, 14-year-old Steffie is making money hand over fist doing that underwater thing -- which I'm now thinking of as "dong snorkeling." She's got a NYC apartment, great clothes, and wads of cash. She's living the life. But sadly for Steffie, the fairy tale only lasts a couple of months. Steffie's heart is broken when Favor decides to cut her loose because her young age is becoming a hassle with the cops. Kicked to the curb with just her ugly original clothes (gross), a dejected Steffie finds herself on a bus heading back home to her previous boring existence.
How's an impressionable teen supposed to make money in a place like this?
Thanks to an elementary school policy of letting advanced readers check out books from the middle school, nine-year-old me read Steffie Can't Come out to Play back in the fourth grade. As I imagine most of the other young girls who read the book did, I daydreamed of running away to the Big City to become a prostitute. It sounded like a pretty cool adventure.
Flowers in the Attic: If Your Parents Suck, Banging Your Sister Will Help
If there were a Pulitzer Prize for Disturbing Young Adult Literature, Flowers in the Attic would dominate the shortlist. Reading a copy of the first book in the popular Dollanganger series as it passed desk under desk was a rite of passage for many 12-year-old girls. But in case that particular milestone eluded you: in a nutshell, the Dollangangers are the family straight out of Hitler's ultimate wet dream -- blonde, blue-eyed, and totally fucked up sexually.
Parents Christopher and Corrine, plus four kids (Chris, Cathy, Carrie and Cory), were an insanely good-looking and happy family with an unhealthy obsession for names that begin with "C," until Christopher's tragic death left them destitute. Desperate and out of options, Corrine reaches out to her wealthy estranged parents for help. The reason for their initial falling out isn't completely revealed in the first book, but let's just say that the Dollanganger kids are lucky that none of them were born with an extra finger or toe, or possibly a prehensile tail. Grandma reluctantly agrees to move the family into her mansion, on the stipulation the grandkids remain locked in the attic until Grandpa, who doesn't know of their existence, passes away. They end up living there for three years.
Sometimes, death is a gift.
Free from the shackles of kids underfoot, suddenly swinging single Corrine leaves her children at the mercy of their puritanical grandmother. Grandma makes infrequent visits to the attic, mostly to make the sure that the budding sexuality of the two eldest, Chris and Cathy, isn't getting out of control. Because "fool me once ..." Her curious method to keep passions cooled is to grab a bullwhip and have Cathy and Chris strip down to their underwear so she can whip them in front of each other. After a harsh beating leaves their flesh pulsing and raw, Grandma hands Chris a pair of scissors and orders him to cut off Cathy's gorgeous long blonde hair, or else all four children will face starvation. He refuses, so the next night, Grandma pours hot tar on Cathy's hair while she sleeps, and later begins to feed them arsenic-laced donuts. You know ... your basic grandma stuff.
The Horrible Message:
As you can imagine, the stress of being locked in an attic amidst the throes of puberty with your super hot sister/brother starts to weigh on the siblings. That, along with jealousy and Grandma's bizarre BDSM-type punishments, finally pushes Chris over the edge, and he rapes his sister. But don't worry -- Chris totally apologizes, and Cathy forgives him, because she was actually pretty into it. Don't judge them; they were attic kids. Their romantic relationship now consummated, the siblings and their eventual progeny continue their perverse misadventures of sadomasochistic family hookups throughout the next four Dollanganger books.
Hide them all from your kids today!
It appears the public has a pretty strong appetite for incestual teen banging. Flowers in the Attic has been made into a movie twice, most recently on the Lifetime Channel with Heather Graham as the kooky, selfish mom and Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka as sister/temptress Cathy. After the success of the Lifetime movie, two new book installments of the Dollanganger Series were put in the works: Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth and Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger are ready to warp the minds of a fresh crop of horny tweenagers.
Heavy Number: If a Chick is Attractive, She Must Be a Sociopathic Sexpot
Don't let the catchy cover art fool you. Heavy Number has very little to do with a hot, fun-loving teen girl, and more to do with a convoluted kidnapping plot that ends in a murderous rampage. From the back cover blurb: "She call the plays ... Her lovers dig the ways ... A sixteen-year-old sexpot pushes four young studs into a HEAVY NUMBER." Which I guess is code for something? I didn't get a special spy ring with the book, so I haven't solved it yet.
For no discernible reason, 16-year-old Shannon uses her apparently irresistible sex appeal to get the adult men in her life to do completely ridiculous things. After quasi-kidnapping Steve, the twenty-something son of a wealthy Beverly Hills businessman, Shannon torments his family by mailing them dead body parts stolen from a morgue. Bored while waiting for the ransom money (which she doesn't want anyway), Shannon spends her time banging Steve and the other three accomplices in between bouts of killing mice with a samurai sword (which also doubles as her sex toy). And I just realized that I wrote those words in a totally non-joke form.
Using this as a sex toy is no joke.
The kidnapping plot ultimately fails, but not before Steve's mom drops dead of a heart attack after receiving what she thinks is her son's severed finger in the mail. Since Steve was never really kidnapped, but rather with Shannon of his own horny volition, it looks like the evil teen isn't going to face any consequences. But Steve and his dad are determined to see that this young vixen won't go unpunished. The climax involves Shannon wielding her sword like a maniac, slicing open anything that comes in her path. It's like Kill Bill, except somehow way, way darker.
The Horrible Message:
Reading Heavy Number, you get the feeling that the author has no clue what a 16-year-old girl is really like, so it's no surprise that the author was actually a forty-something-year-old man. And after getting to the parts where Shannon masturbates with the business end of a sword and fantasizes about screwing an imaginary dude with no arms or legs whom she calls Lump Man, you get the feeling he has no idea what a normal, well-adjusted human being is like, either. Shannon's driven by motives that aren't exactly clear beyond "she's hot, so of course she's crazy." This book basically posits that attractive girls are by their very nature evil, horny sociopaths.
Love Never Dies: Suicide Can Be Fun
Poor Nicole! Stressed out by her low SAT scores, she overdoses on pills and ends up dead ... but death is just the beginning of a fabulous new life in Teen Heaven. Unlike traditional Heaven, there are no cherubs, fluffy clouds, or angels plucking tiny harps in Love Never Dies. That would be totally lame.
Teen Heaven is a super cool place in which to hang and hook up with other dead teens. But it's not all fun and games. You still have to attend Teen Heaven High School and occasionally head back to Earth to help other struggling teens deal with their shallow problems. Because evidently, Teen Heaven is exactly like Adult Hell.
Boy-crazy Nicole is quickly smitten with JD, the James Dean lookalike who runs Teen Heaven. But before she has a chance to get anything going with him, he sends her on her first Earthly mission. The apparently fickle Nicole is quickly over her crush on JD and on to breaking Teen Angel Rule Number One: don't fall in love with an Earth boy. Unfortunately, resisting Jake the handsome ski instructor is beyond her skill set. They fall hard for each other, and just when it seems their ill-fated romance is headed for a heartbreaking conclusion, there's good news. It turns out Jake is actually dead too, so they'll be able to continue their heavy petting sessions back in Teen Heaven. And something in my brain just popped.
The Horrible Message:
To say that Nicole's life improved after she committed suicide would be an understatement. On her first trip back to Earth, she stays in a luxurious suite at an expensive ski resort, she's equipped with all the coolest gear, and is miraculously endowed with the ability to ski like an Olympic athlete. Glamorous assignments, making out with cute boys, no parental oversight -- what teen wouldn't want to say "goodbye, cruel world?" Life seems pretty good once you're dead. I'm surprised the title wasn't You Should Kill Yourself: You'll Show Them All.
Domestic Arrangements: Nudity Is A Smart Career Move
Not only is 14-year-old Tatiana hotter and smarter than her older sister, Delia, but she's also the only one getting laid on the regular. Poor homely Delia has no steady boyfriend and is still a virgin at 16. When Tatiana gets caught banging her boyfriend in the bathroom of her family's NYC apartment, Mom's totally cool with it, and thinks the real reason Dad is freaking out is that he's about to turn 50.
Geez Dad, stop being such a square!
While other teen books skirt around sex, Domestic Arrangements dives right in, with graphic descriptions of Tatiana screwing and giving blow jobs. But that's not the unsettling part. The book is written like some kind of bizarre Walter Mitty teen fantasy in which the protagonist out-Mary-Sues herself at every turn. Stunning redheaded Tatiana can eat all she wants without getting fat. Everywhere she goes, people are taken with her beauty. Despite having no acting experience, she lands a starring role in a feature film with a controversial topless scene. The scene is a huge hit, and suddenly everyone wants to work with her. Even though she can't sing, Hollywood producers wants her to come out and audition for the lead in Lolita! the Musical. She gets the part despite the fact there were concerns her boobs may be too big.
Wait, that wasn't my brain popping. It was my soul.
And this is a stock photo of a soul, apparently.
The only downer in her life? Everyone is just a little jealous of her. She knows she's the favorite of both parents, and only wishes that they'd do a better job of hiding that fact from her sad sack sister. Her rich 16-year-old boyfriend is upset that guys are hitting on her and that she has all these new opportunities. They briefly break up, but to win her back, he purchases a first class plane ticket just so he can sit next to her on her flight to Hollywood, with plans to turn around and go home once she's safely landed.
The Horrible Message:
Now that everyone has caught a glimpse of her perfect boobs, Tatiana has skyrocketed to super stardom. She's interviewed on The Today Show and by People magazine (and totally lands the cover). She's a little overwhelmed by her success, because there are just so many opportunities. Flashing your cans at 14 would seem like a bad idea, but for Tatiana, there appears to be no downside.
If anyone has a way to make your brain stop chanting "THIS IS THE WORLD," please let me know.
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For more from Diana, check out 4 Popular Activities That Should Be Illegal for Kids. And then check out 34 Children's Books Updated for Modern Problems.