Do you remember the first book that made you fall in love with a genre? Here are 5 childhood classics of speculative fiction that made us lifelong fantasy, horror and sci-fi readers.
More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
With their truly terrifying cover art and macabre tales contained inside, this spooky book series was ubiquitous at childhood sleepovers. I still hear adults talk in hushed, reverent tones about how haunted they are to this day by classics like "The Girl with the Green Ribbon Around Her Neck." Where Goosebumps were often goofy, these stories were often deadly serious. When I was feeling especially brave, I would devour them alone by flash light. Horror remains one of my favorite genres and I have Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to thank for nurturing an early love of thrills and chills.
Contemporary Young Adult fiction shelves are bursting at the bookended seams with stories set in societies that appear to be utopias but might actually have a dark secret lurking underneath. The Giver was the first one that came in to my life; questioning the values of conformity just as I was on the tween-age edge of entering the dystopia that is middle school. This is the book that had me eschewing sameness for emotional complexity and also searching the shelves for more genre classics like Animal Farm and Brave New World.
Before I knew the term "magical realism," I knew that I loved how it felt to read Francesca Lia Block's dreamy prose. The Los Angeles of Block's story is sun-drenched and surreal, whimsical and hazy as the actual city smog. Steeped equally in Old Hollywood glamour and 80s punk subculture- I immediately wanted to befriend Block's quirky characters. The story also tackled LGBTQIA+ issues like marriage equality and the AIDS crisis in a way that was accessible to me, even as a very young reader. The novella is as slim as the tiny, eponymous Weetzie Bat. I read it all in one sitting, clamoring to check out more of the rest of the Dangerous Angels series.
A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962 and was remarkable in its era for many reasons. The novel features a plucky female protagonist in a science fiction story and managed to explain the complex theories of quantum physics in a way that readers of any age could understand. It also arrived at just the right time in my own life- when the plain but bright character Meg Murray's insecurities were very relatable. I longed to join the warm, empathetic and brilliant Murray family on their adventures across time and space. Before Harry Potter- this was the first book to prove to me that love is the ultimate weapon against evil.
Like A Wrinkle in Time before it, The Golden Compass features a plot drawing on theoretical particle physics and parallel universes. But where Meg Murray was often meek, protagonist Lyra Belacqua is brave, curious and clever. Lyra's adventures sneaking out and climbing the rooftops of Jordan College and getting into scraps with street urchins prepares her for greater battles that lie ahead as she challenges the authority of a theocratic society engaged in terrible experiments. Often described as an agnostic alternative to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Pullman's world-building spoke to me in ways other fantasy books had not. Perhaps the greatest gift Pullman gives as an author, is never insulting the intelligence of his young readers and encouraging them to develop critical thinking skills.
Tell us in the comments- which books first made you fans of the genres you love today?