With the exception of the great classics of literature, which often find their way onto required reading lists and high school syllabi, it’s rare that books that were originally published for adults find their way to the teen section in bookstores. But Simon Pulse is hoping that a reissue of a 1994 adult trade title can make just such a splash with today’s teens.
Thirteen years ago, Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint published Blake Nelson’s debut novel, Girl, an adult paperback original. A Simon Pulse reissue edition for teens, which pubbed earlier this season, came about partly because of Nelson’s subsequent YA success (The New Rules of High School; Rock Star, Superstar;Gender Blender), and partly thanks to one reader who fell in love with the book its first time around.
Girl is a coming-of-age story narrated by naïve teen Andrea Marr, who relates her explorations of Portland’s underground rock scene as well as her first sexual explorations in diary-esque paragraphs (“After fifth period I ran to Darcy’s locker. I told her that Todd Sparrow’s band was called Color Green and Thriftstore Apocalypse was going to play with them and there was a youth revolution and all the new bands were taking over and wasn’t it exciting?”). “Girl was misunderstood when it came out,” says Nelson. “A lot of adults thought it was a book about a groupie. But really it’s ‘riot grrl’ stuff, the zine world, Nirvana having just broken out. This was kind of a revolutionary time if you were in your early teens or 20s.”
The book enjoyed modest success over the years, with close to 40,000 copies in print, and was made into a 1998 feature film starring Dominique Swain, Tara Reid and Portia de Rossi, among other future Hollywood faces. Despite the book’s publication for an adult audience, many teenagers found their way to it (both before and because of the movie). Cara Bedick, assistant editor at Simon Spotlight Entertainment, was herself a teenage fan of the book, and says she was stunned when, in September 2006, her boss, Jen Bergstrom, v-p and publisher of SSE and Simon Pulse at the time, handed her a copy of the book to research for possible republication as a YA. “Little did she know I was going to say that was my favorite book as a teen,” says Bedick. “When you work in publishing you never think you’ll have the opportunity to work on something like that.”
After looking into Nelson’s track record, Bedick felt “it was a great time to introduce the book to the next generation of readers.” She recalls the excited response from several women her age at an editorial meeting when they announced they were considering republishing the book. “That’s when we knew the book would take off,” Bedick says.
Despite the fact that book is grounded in a specific place and time—Andrea and her friends listen to cassette tapes of their favorite bands—Bedick believes Girl will be just as relevant to today’s teens. “The book is emo before it was [called] emo,” says Bedick. “It’s set in the music scene and is full of teen angst, which is timeless. Not everyone is going to be doing hard drugs in high school, but no matter if you live in New York and go to the Village on your own or live in the suburbs and take public transportation downtown for the first time—that’s something that will ring true for all readers.”
Drug use is just one of the controversial elements in Girl that, along with fairly explicit sexual encounters, marked this book originally an adult title. “First love is fine, but first sexual experience might not have been as accepted” when the book was originally published, Bedick says. Additionally, according to Bethany Buck, v-p and associate publisher of Simon Pulse, teen publishing options were more limited in 1994. “Kids were going from Baby-sitters Club to Stephen King,” she says. “[Girl is] pretty edgy and raw, but I think that it’s perfect for this market, despite the fact that it’s of a different era. The themes are all things that kids are dealing with today.”
Nelson says when he was first trying to find a publisher, some friends actually recommended that he pitch Girl as a YA book. “I was resistant, because YA was so dead at the time, there was nothing interesting going on there,” he says. “Also I felt like I had done something interesting and wanted it to be out in the real literary world. So it was published as an adult book—and, of course, it took off with 12- to 18-year-olds.”
The author recalls visiting the teen section of a Barnes & Noble back around 2001, as Harry Potter buzz was building. “You could just feel the energy,” he says. “I thought, if Girl could be with those books—teens would love it.” And while it would take many years for Girl to find its way to YA shelves, that same visit helped jumpstart Nelson’s focus on writing for that audience.
But Nelson remains hopeful that the book that started it all will find a new generation of fans. To capitalize on the importance of music to the book (not to mention appeal to today’s readers, who are less apt to have an audiocassette collection), Nelson has created a “soundtrack” for the book in the form of an iMix playlist, available to iTunes users, which contains a mix of 1990s and more recent artists, including Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
And at Simon Pulse, Nelson’s editor remains confident that the book she loved as a teenager can find a second life more than a decade later. “The feelings and emotions that come out in girls [during their teen years]—those same feelings are going to be felt by readers today,” Bedick says. “I like to think of it as a contemporary classic."
Girl by Blake Nelson. Simon Pulse, $9.99 paper 256p ages 14-up ISBN 978-1-4169-4803-2