Teen Witch #1: Lucky 13 By Megan Barnes

Thirteenth birthdays can be weird…

Teen Witch- Lucky 13

The Plot: Honestly? This is one of those books that you don’t even need to read because the title tells the entire story.

Sarah Connell is the youngest daughter in a family of health nuts. She has a wacky best friend named Micki. She has a crush on the new guy in school. She has a hippie aunt who runs a combination tea room and rare book store. She struggles in her 7th grade American History class because the Civil War is so totally boring. She wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up, but her “fabulous” ensembles are of sub-Claudia Kishi quality.

And on her thirteenth birthday, she wakes up with the magical power to locate her sister Nicole’s missing Tangerine Ice lip gloss, although she points out:

“If you bothered to study Seventeen, you’d know that citrus colors are out and hot pinks are in. You should throw out your old lip gloss and buy some of the new bubble-gum pink shades!”

Still unaware that you’re a witch, Sarah! She manages to break all the ovens in the school’s kitchen by just wishing it and have pizza delivered for lunch, much to the delight of her friends.

Next she is overcome by an urge for hot chocolate, which lead to an encounter with Hunky New Guy in school Cody Rice. Sarah relates the encounter to Micki:

“He sort of looks like Rob Lowe. He’s got really black hair and those big blue eyes that look right through you.”


“And his voice… I’ll never forget it as long as I live. It’s low. And it reminds me a little of Bono from U2.”

“He’s Irish?” Micki asked, surprised.


(I’d think that his Rob Lowe-ness would be a red flag for teenaged girls in 1988, but maybe publication squeaked though just ahead of the sex scandal)

Micki then ruins everything by telling Sarah that she’s been walking around with a hot chocolate moustache all day. Which I’d think would be a difficult thing to not notice, but whatever.

It takes all the way to chapter four for Sarah to pay a visit to her hippie Aunt Pam’s house and have the news broken to her that you’re a witch, Sarah. Great! Now she can use a spell erase Cody’s memory of the totally embarrassing hot chocolate moustache! Unfortunately, since Sarah is only an apprentice witch she screws it up, erasing all of Cody’s memory. So she decides to rectify the situation by making a love portion:

Luckily she could find most of the things she needed on the top shelf of the pantry- herbs and spices with funny-sounding names like turmeric, cumin, and marjoram. She wondered what the concoction would taste like.

Uh, it is going to taste like Cincinnati 5-Way Chili. Obvs.

She slips the potion into Cody’s cup of lemonade at the football team’s bake sale, and sure enough within hours he’s calling her on the phone to recite Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Remember those red flags? Cody immediately declares his undying love for Sarah, plans four dates for a single weekend and when Sarah’s parents restrict her phone time he embarks on a letter-writing campaign:

“If I can’t talk to you whenever I want to, Sarah, I’ll do the next best thing. I’ll write to you.”

Sarah was exasperated. “You already write to me, Cody. I find your notes in my locker every day.”

“But this way I can write to you more,” he said eagerly. “Not just notes, but letters, long letters…”

She let him ramble on a few minutes… He had a lifetime of plans for the two of them. Together forever.

The next morning FedEx arrives with an overnight delivery of love letters for her.

“I wanted you to think of me first thing in the morning.”

Come on, Cody- you’re being very un-Cody.

When he flips out about Sarah sitting with her other friends at lunch (“The point is, you and I are going steady, and that means you don’t sit with anyone else. Not at lunch, not anywhere!”), Sarah finally seeks the advice of her Aunt Pam, who laughs off all of this stalking and emotional abuse, assuring Sarah that the spell will wear off in a few days.

In the meantime Sarah uses her powers to cheat on a history test and present an enchanted pigeon feather to the other guy she has a crush on so he’ll win the big track meet.

Eventually, she shares her secret about her incredible witch-powers with Micki (why is it a secret?  Unclear) and assures her friend that being a witch is going to be awesome.

Three more titles were published in the series, including one where Sarah and Micki travel back in time to the antebellum south to wear hoopskirts and not die of diphtheria.

Sadly, this series has no relation to the 1989 flop teenpic (and cult pay-TV favorite) Teen Witch, which is really too bad, since the book could have used more epic suburban rap battles between 30 year old teenagers:

(“Look how funky he is.”)

Sign It Was Written In 1988 Department:

Micki was sitting at the breakfast table, staring at a heaping platter of pancakes topped with yogurt and blueberries.

“I feel like I just wandered onto the set of Who’s the Boss?

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have A Title! Department: “Was she really Sarah Connell… teen witch?”

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Donna Parker On Her Own (#3) By Marcia Martin

This is living!

Donna Parker On Her Own

This week, our Whitman Fall Classic checks in with Donna Parker, the heroine of Marcia Martin’s extremely pleasant series about Junior High life in the 1950s.

The Plot: It is now early spring in the New York suburb of Summerfield, and Donna and her BFF Ricky (“called Fredericka only by her mother”), have recovered from their adventures at Camp Cherrydale and their celebrity status as award-wining student journalists and thwarters of Communist spies.

The book opens with the beleaguered Mrs. Parker and her daughter arguing over whether Donna should be allowed to go with the gang on a camping trip the following weekend. Mrs. Parker is steadfast in her refusal: Continue reading

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Meg: The Mystery of Black-Magic Cave (Meg Duncan #3) By Holly Beth Walker

What was the sinister secret of the black-magic cave? Meg and Kerry were soon to find out…

Black Magic Cave

Background: From the 1950s through the 1970s Whitman published a huge number of these squat, dust jacketless hard covers, separately targeting boys and girls. Some of these were based on TV shows, some were based on celebrities having imaginary adventures and solving crimes (Annette Funicello! Patty Duke!), and some were original series about plucky eponymous girl-heroines solving mysteries, having adventures and learning valuable lessons: your Trixie Beldens, Ginny Gordons and Donna Parkers.

While Julie Campbell’s Trixie Belden series is probably the only one of these that can be considered a certified classic, the others are, at least by reputation, satisfyingly solid efforts.

We’re getting a late start on our annual autumnal extravaganza, so let’s start by checking in with our old chum Meg Duncan. Continue reading

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Please Don’t Eat the Daisies By Jean Kerr

Click here for information on the 2014 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the August selection, Jean Kerr’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.)

Please Don't Eat the Daisies

Jean Kerr’s phenomenal best-seller of the late 1950’s might be the earliest archeological example of “Mommy Snark”- here in the future, parents are constantly baring the souls online (always with a knowing wink) about letting their kids eat Pop Tarts for dinner or concerns about how Avery or Madison is probably going to grow up to be bum or a serial killer.

I can only imagine that such confessionals had more shock value in 1957, when Kerr confessed that her “special chicken creole soup” was made by mixing together a can of Campbell’s chicken soup with a can of Campbell’s creole soup or that when none of the children will fess up to throwing the calendar in the toilet she “relies on blind instinct” in selecting the probable culprit for a spanking, shrugging off the fact that “this undoubtedly leads to an occasional injustice, but you’d be surprised how it cuts down on the plumbing bills.” Continue reading

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‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty By Pat Boone

Teen-age can be a confusin’ time, but it can also be a great adventure.

Twixt 12 and 20

Pat Boone was a teen idol who rose to fame recording sanitized cover versions of Rhythm & Blues songs deemed too scary for mainstream radio. The pros and cons of this practice of musical “whitewashing” are still up for debate: while Boone had the #1 hit version of “Ain’t That a Shame”, it was eventually and irrevocably eclipsed by Fats Domino’s original, with Boone’s becoming little more than a pop music footnote. If they’re feeling charitable, music historians credit Boone’s popularity with bringing R&B to a mainstream audience (not to mention royalty payments to songwriters).

And Boone embraced his white-bread image all the way (his cover of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” gives the impression of a man who had no idea what the song was about until the moment he stepped up to the mic, and is desperately trying to improvise clean lyrics on the spot), so it’s no surprise that his advice to the teenagers of 1958 focuses on clean living, going to church, concentrating on school and near-constant spankings. Continue reading

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Love Comes To Anne By Lucille S. Warner


This week, something from the archive…

Originally posted on Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989:

The last Wildfire title that appeared in this space, Recipe for Romance was basically a stupid story that was well-written. This one is just a stupid story that is badly written. Whereas that title at least had a gimmick, a main character with a goal and some local color, Love Comes to Anne is set in a generic suburb of an unnamed city (all we know is that it’s not Chicago) and features a main character who does not do much of anything. It is also the first book under the Wildfire imprint, so I assume much of this is because they haven’t really decided what to do with the series or built up their stable of reliable Cooneys, Cavanaghs and Claypool-Miners.  Luckily for you, readers, there is at least enough weird stuff going on in this one to make it worth taking a look at.

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Rhapsody in Orange and Brown: 15 Favorite Classic YA Covers

A few weeks back there was a something of a kerfuffle over Penguin’s 50th Anniversary cover of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was a holder of the minority opinion that the new cover was kind of  great… at least it was memorable!  

What was the last really memorable cover art you saw on a YA title? A glance at Amazon’s bestsellers in the “Teen & Young Adult” category reveals plain graphics, boring stock photos, and movie tie-in reissues.

It wasn’t always this way! Illustrated covers of decades past were constantly compelling, evocative and terrifying. Mostly terrifying.

Some of the best covers (regardless of literary merit) of books reviewed in this space include…


…with additional special mention to artists, designers and photographers behind Fridays, Green Eyes, Holly in Love, Just Dial a Number, and Since That Party.

As far as books that have not been reviewed in this space, I’d like to to bring your attention to 15 of my all-time favorite covers: Continue reading

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