Young Adult EducationSex, Drugs and Tim Allen: Inappropriate Books I Read As A KidKerry Winfrey

Recently, I discovered the column PG-13: Risky Reads in The New York Times. In their words, the column features “authors discussing the books that transformed and matured their teenage minds” because “at 13, you crave the adult stuff — the drama, the relationships, the mind-blowing ideas — even if you’re not ready for adulthood.” I love this idea, and of course, this made me think about the “adult” books that transformed and matured my mind when I was 13. Then I realized that I read some really, really weird stuff when I was a kid.

So this week’s column is a departure from my usual format. Instead of talking about young adult books, I’m talking about the totally inappropriate books I read when I was a young adult. Because when I wasn’t reading Phyllis Reynolds Naylor or Lois Lowry, I was reading things I probably shouldn’t have been reading. So while they may not have been age-appropriate choices, I’m still glad I found these books, because they all taught me a lot about life, love and Tim Allen’s fashion choices.

Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man by Tim Allen

This is a weird choice to start out with, and I realize that. But this was back in the crazy days of the 90s when Home Improvement was super popular (insert the grunt from the opening credits here) and Toy Story was basically the coolest movie ever made. Tim Allen was everywhere, including in my house, because my dad owned this book. Even though my parents were incredibly strict about what movies they let me watch (seriously, it was a big deal when they let me watch Mrs. Doubtfire, a PG-13 movie, before I turned 13), they were pretty loosey-goosey about books. Except for this book. For some reason, they singled out Tim Allen’s essay collection as the one book I wasn’t allowed to read. So, naturally, I made it my mission to get my grubby little paws on it and read it.

I read this book in the only private place in the house—the bathroom. I leaned against the door while I read it, in case anyone tried to bust in and stop me. In retrospect, this was kind of a stupid plan. I mean, wouldn’t someone wonder why I was leaning against the door if they tried to get in? That’s kind of suspicious, Little Kerry.

I don’t know if I learned much of anything from this book other than that 1) men and women are different and 2) Tim can rock a pair of suspenders like nobody’s business (I’m just kidding, you guys. Please no one think I’ve been nursing a weird crush on Tim Allen all these years.). Anyway, I don’t remember much about Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, but I recently found it at my parents’ house and the empty peanut M&Ms wrapper I used as a bookmark was still in it. Listen, I was a chubby kid. A chubby kid who just wanted to read Tim Allen in peace!

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Summer Sisters wasn’t the first Judy Blume book that taught me a lot about life (I literally learned about periods from one of her books because I am a cliché), but it was the first Judy Blume book I read that wasn’t directed towards young girls. My aunt bought me this when I was visiting her one weekend. Presumably, she figured it was another one of Judy’s children’s books. Either that or she just didn’t care what I read. Regardless, I did not expect Summer Sisters to be so awesome. I thought I was getting another Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and instead I ended up with an explosive introduction to adult life (or what I imagined adult life would be like). There was sex and affairs and love triangles and did I mention sex? But the main thing I learned from Summer Sisters is that true friendship lasts forever, even if two girls go through some seriously intense situations together. My life as an adult hasn’t turned out to be quite as exciting as Summer Sisters, mainly because it involves very few beachy love triangles and many, many nights spent in front of my laptop, but you know what? I’m pretty okay with leaving the drama for Judy’s books.

Any romance novel, ever

If there was a romance novel anywhere in my general vicinity, I would find it and immediately read the sex scenes. I’d feel weird about this if I didn’t know it was a pretty common young girl activity—at least, it was for the girls I knew growing up. I attended multiple slumber parties where someone’s mom’s romance novels were read aloud as entertainment. I don’t know, was this common behavior or was I just hanging out with a bunch of 13 year old pervs? You tell me.

As you might expect, I learned a lot from these books, although I’m pretty sure (okay, 100% sure) that some of the information was inaccurate. I mean, how many sheiks or billionaires are looking for wives, realistically? But I did find out a lot of really creative words for body parts, which provided my friends and I with endless laughter. And, as a bonus, I still have an uncanny ability to open up any book to a sex scene. It’s like my totally useless, creepy super power.

Anything by Stephen King

Did I really need to read Thinner in elementary school? No. I did not. But did I? You bet. I loved Stephen King and all scary/creepy/violent books, despite the fact that I was an easily frightened child (ha, I say “was” as if this period of my life is over!). I learned a lot from Stephen King, like don’t hit gypsies with your car. And stay away from cursed pies! I also learned things that are slightly more useful, like that there are few things in life as satisfying as an interesting plot.

Now it’s your turn…what age-inappropriate or just plain weird books did you read when you were in elementary, junior high, or high school? Did you secretly read romance novels, too? Or were you into the memoirs of middle-aged comedians like some of us (ahem)? Let me know in the comments—or we can just talk about how amazing Summer Sisters is. Next week, I’ll be back to featuring young adult books. If there are any books you’d like to see in Young Adult Education, let me know in the comments, send me an email at youngadulteducation@gmail.com or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

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  1. This dates me but I read a lot of my mom’s Judith Krantz books when I was a pre-teen. And Norma Klein! I still re-read some of the Norma Klein books once in a while.

  2. I started reading romance when I was around 12. And never stopped :D All that historical romance came in handy when we started talking about Victorian England in school :D

  3. This is such a great article, because I have definitely been there! Although I think there have been more, the main 3 that come to mind are Wicked, which I read when I was 11 (and also Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister at the same age, but I don’t have any scarring memories of it), Forever when I was 12, and The Bee Season when I was 12. In all three cases, I can still remember vivid details from my first time reading the more mature scenes, because I was so freaked out that they became engraved in my mind. I know that Judy Blume has told readers that they can read Forever when they’re ready, but at 12, I definitely wasn’t.

  4. WI’ve read “Christiane F” when I was 13… Of course I borrowed from a friend and kept hidden from my parents…. No 13 y.o. Should be allowed to read that… Shame on me! :)

  5. I read Gossip Girl at 9.
    That was probably a bad idea.

  6. I read tons upon tons of Stephen King in middle school. Apparently I was also a pervy 13 year old, because I remember dog-earring every page of the Tommyknockers that mentioned sex. I also read Marilyn Manson’s autobiography, which my dad took from me and threw it in the trash. I was LIVID. Still kind of am. Also, a friend introduced me to a series of vampire books (the first one is called Dark Lover) that were VERY explicit. I read and reread the scenes over and over.

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  8. I read Go Ask Alice when I was ten. But the one that scarred me was reading Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire when I was 12. I was NOT ready for that (and now I’m a huge Irving fan). I also read one of Stephen King’s horror books when I was twelve. Another mistake.

  9. oops…was just going to say that I too did the romance novel thing…totally snuck them out of my parent’s room.

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  11. i read It Happened to Nancy. in the 7th grade, i think. yea. if you’re not familiar, google it. could’ve waited a few years for that one.

  12. White Oleander. I remember feeling like my
    Nana made a mistake in giving me that book but I loved it.

  13. Go Ask Alice and Forever by Judy Blume were my hot books in the 5th grade. I had both taken away from me by a teach and was furious that my rights were being infringed upon! Rawr!

    • Go Ask Alice was taken away? I read that and wrote a report on it. Granted, I was in 8th grade by then. I do remember my mom taking Where the Red Fern Grows from me when I was 16 though. I still think that’s funny. I also remember sneakily ready Forever on the bus with my best friend in 6th grade :)

      • My third grade teacher read Where the Red Fern Grows to us out loud in class, and then I took it and read it again. I never thought of it as an adult book :P.

  14. Oh, this is a great article! My parents were never big readers, so they never implemented age restrictions. I read Go Ask Alice when I was 12 along with a ton of Dean Koontz, Gregory Maguire and Laurell K Hamilton (the latter of which I don’t recommend) throughout middle and high school. I loved reading the “mature” books when I was that young.
    It’s funny ’cause I went back and read all the classics in senior year, and college.

    • Thanks, Eli! There’s just something exciting about reading books you know aren’t meant for you!

      Kerry Winfrey | 1/12/2013 06:01 pm
  15. I read “Forever” by Judy Blume when I was in like 5th grade…totally inappropriate. I also brought a VC Andrews book to school around the same age and the teacher took it away during reading time. My parents never censored my reading and I didn’t understand the sex scenes anyway, so I was appalled that my teacher took my book! Now I think maybe she was right!

    • Ha! None of my teachers ever took away my books, but honestly I think that’s just because I was such a quiet weirdo that my teachers basically left me alone!

      Kerry Winfrey | 1/12/2013 06:01 pm
  16. The Colour Purple. What was I thinking??

  17. I did not find Summer Sisters till I was 15. I loved it, though. I read the Clan of the Cavebear series by Jean M Auel when I was 10. Well started reading it, and have looked forward to every new addition to the series since.

  18. Romance novels here too…
    and The Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I was probably a wee bit too young when I read that one.

  19. i loved summer sisters. she’s come undone was another totally inappropriate read. i think i was 12 or 13.

  20. oh, summer sisters… i think i was in 6th grade when i read it. and it was amazing.