Saturday, August 18, 2018

Doomed to Obscurity (Alissa Grosso)

Sometimes I find myself lamenting the fact that I've yet to make the New York Times Bestseller list or that Netflix has not yet called me to say they want to turn one of my books into a new series, which is when I realize that I only have myself and the books I read over and over again in my teens to blame.

While young adult books have existed for a long time, the genre was something of a publishing backwater prior to around the turn of the twenty-first century. Back in the day, there simply weren't all that many teen books published. This, coupled with the fact that the town were I lived in my teens had a fairly small public library, meant that my reading choices were limited.

My library didn't so much have a young adult section as it had a shelf. There were not many books on it, and I was a voracious reader. So, I read a lot of books more than once. There were a few that I read multiple times.

I would say that my library's YA shelf had a few books on it that if not exactly bestsellers, were at least books that people had heard of. Had these been the books that I chose to read again and again, I might be better off today. Alas, this was not the case. For some reason I was drawn to obscure, often somewhat weird books.

If you know Ellen Raskin at all, you know her as the author of The Westing Game. That's a great book, and I admit that I definitely read that one more than once, but on the teen shelf in my public library I discovered a book called The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues. This book was published the year I was born. So, it was probably already dated by the time I was reading it in my teens. I didn't seem to care, because I read it more times than I can remember.

What's worth noting about The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues is that as books go it's fairly obscure. It certainly isn't as popular as The Westing Game, which was far and away Raskin's best selling book. It could be argued that The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues was maybe just a little too weird to ever be popular and mainstream.

Author Madeleine L'Engle's best-known work is A Wrinkle in Time. It's an excellent book that I enjoyed as a kid and which inspired me to track down L'Engle's other works. I think I read nearly all of them, but the one that I read the most? Well, it was one that ended up on the teen shelf at the library. A book called A House Like A Lotus, and chances are better than good that you haven't read it or even heard of it.

I believe that another book I read too many times in my teens, actually wasn't quite as obscure. While the Chocolate War was definitely Robert Cormier's best-known book, I think I Am The Cheese was pretty big as well. What I will say about I Am The Cheese is that it tended more towards the strange end of the spectrum, and unless I'm mistaken I think it's pretty much fallen into obscurity these days. Cormier wasn't exactly known for writing sunny, happy books, but my recollection is that this was a pretty dark book.

I was drawn to these slightly offbeat books and read them far more times than I read their popular counterparts. Undeniably the books that I was obsessed with as a teen have inspired and influenced the books that I write for teens. Had I read A Wrinkle in Time more times than I read A House Like A Lotus, maybe I would have one of those shiny award stickers on one of my books, but this is not the case.

When I think of I Am the Cheese I can see it's influence on my books Popular and Ferocity Summer. Certainly there are parts of my book Shallow Pond that owe their existence to A House Like A Lotus. I still haven't written a straight-up mystery, but I think the quirky characters aspect of The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues informed my own book Unnamed Roads.

Those books I couldn't get enough of in my teens may have doomed me to a life of literary obscurity, but I'm okay with that. Not everyone likes those popular, mainstream books, and if you're one of those people. I can say that I totally, one hundred percent get you.

You can find out more about Alissa Grosso and her obscure books at You can even get a free copy of her novel Popular, which is really nothing at all like I Am the Cheese, except for the parts that are.