Frightened and Flustered: The Books You Read Too Young

BookTrib is partnering with Early Bird Books to bring you more great content, including this article about some of your favorite novels as a teenager. Read on for more!

A few weeks ago, an Early Bird Books meeting devolved into a passionate discussion about the books we stuffed under our mattresses, read by flashlight, and bought with our weekly allowances. Hilarity ensued. But after realizing our souls were similarly (and eternally) corrupted by Flowers in the Attic, we quickly realized we wanted to hear your answers, too.

We were so excited to see your responses—yes, we did read all of them!—and hear about your innocent acts of bookish rebellion. While Judy Blume, VC Andrews, and Peyton Place seemed to have ruffled the most pre-tween feathers, there were a couple other hair-raising, cheek-flushing standouts. Among them: To Kill A MockingbirdA Tree Grows in BrooklynThe CarpetbaggersLady Chatterley’s Lover, and Gone with the Wind. (Don’t worry, your secrets are safe with us.)

The responses below are a taste of what cracked us up or left us nodding furiously at our desks. We hope you had just as much fun sharing your stories as we had reading them. (And for the record, fellow Early Birder JR Denman—we totally think you should start an “Early Readers” group.)

Peyton Place, Grace Metalious

Peyton Place Grace Metalious

“Probably Peyton Place, I was 12 and my parents were away for the weekend so I got it from my Mom’s ‘hiding place’ and read [it] before they got home.” —Barbara Johnson Coop

“Yes, I read Peyton Place at about the same age. All I can remember is some character saying Constance someone was built like a brick shit house. I remember this because I pondered on what that could look like!” —Beryl Helene

“Decided I was never going to have a boy come near me.” —Mary Johnson

“Still have my mother’s ‘hidden’ copy that I read (when she wasn’t home) and shared it with my friend. We were 10!” —Jean Gormley Pierce

“My mom found it hidden in my drawer and took it. I bought another copy and hid it better.” —Bitsy Aikens Siano

Forever…, Judy Blume

Forever Judy Blume

“I was like 😱  reading it.” —Tara Strickland Callais

“I had read all her other books & was so excited when I got it. I don’t remember how old I was, but I think I was only on the first page & had to ask my Mom what ‘laid’ meant. I’m surprised she still let me continue to read it.” —Dawn Reed Tomaino

“I was sent to the principal’s office for having it.” —Michele Marie Ballew

“We passed that book around so much the covers fell off.” —Melissa Sloss Springer

And more on Judy Blume…

“When I was 12, me and my best friend Denise lifted her mother’s copy of Wifey, and read the whole book in one day in back of our elementary school. We had the book neatly tucked away in her mother’s dresser drawer full of carefully folded polyester stretch pants of various colors, before her mother even knew it was gone. Or maybe not…” —Jean Spurvey

Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume. I was 9 and asked my mom what a wet dream was. She freaked out, and I had to sneak read Judy Blume after.” —Marie Beach.

 

Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber Kathleen Winsor

“I’m 63, but since I was around 11, I have read it 13 times. It is rated G now but back then it was very racy.” —Paula Wells

“I was caught reading that in study hall in 7th grade!” —Donna V. Brewer

“The lady who told me to read it said it was banned from the library in her high school in 40’s!!!! Loved the book, thanks for the reminder I need to read it again.” —Sandra Hall Moore

Forever Amber—in junior high. My teacher asked if my parents knew I was reading it. I’m 70, so that was over 55 years ago. I still have the book. My copy is printed in two columns on each page. Kind of unusual. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line a dog chewed on it.” —Cheryl Olmstead

“It was hidden at a friend’s house we read it out loud together, a group of us girls.” —Annie Oakley

Flowers in the Attic VC Andrews

“I was 12. Much too young for murder, sex, incest … Actually, I am still too young to read about incest! I did end up using 2 of her characters for names when I had children. I have a son named Jory and a son named Logan.” —Stacey Dodds Mowatt

“I don’t know how old I was, too young to even know the term ‘incest’ but I knew enough to know it wasn’t right!! After that horror, I went into Stephen King … a lot less traumatic but he’s totally to blame for my cussing like a sailor.” —Andy Terrill Clark                                   

“We had an adult book store a few blocks from us. There was a shortcut that happened to go behind it. In 7th grade, a friend & I found a copy of Xavier Hollander’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. We BOTH got quite the sex education for a couple of 12 year olds!”—Corey Kisler Hansen

“I was young and in grade school. It was a bright yellow book on our shelf at home called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex … So of course I read it.” —Laura Trimpe

Endless Love, Scott Spencer

Endless Love Scott Spencer

Endless Love paperback was passed around the class in Jr High with all the ‘good parts’ dog-eared. I’m certain that my eyes bugged out of my head & my face was beet red!” —Lacy Finley Cooper

Pet Sematary, Stephen King

Stephen King Pet Sematary

“I read Pet Sematary at 10. I picked it because it had the word ‘pet’ in the title. My grandma bought it for me from a garage sale; I guess she didn’t know how inappropriate it would be.” —Stacy Denise Baker

And more on Stephen King…

“I had a fascination with vampires as a kid. At 13, I read Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Read it in two days and scared the bejeezus out of me! First night I slept with a crucifix and a turtleneck. The 2nd night same stuff AND I ‘borrowed’ my mom’s holy water from Lourdes and sprinkled it around my bed. Absolutely, the best scare I’ve ever had!!!” —Mike Mason

Superstitious, R.L. Stine

Superstitious R.L. Stine

“I was 13 & my mom bought it for me thinking it was just a longer Goosebumps book. It’s so not, & honestly I reread it the year I turned 30 & it’s still frightening. One of the only books ever to actually scare me.” —Jamie “Raich” Ferguson

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote 

In Cold Blood Truman Capote

“I was in a ‘Bestsellers’ English class in high school. My mom would not give me permission to read it, so of course it was the first book on the list I read. I read it secretly, of course, but desperately needed to talk to someone afterwards because I was so disturbed. My mom caught on and we talked at length about it. I still remember it!” —Audrey Haugan

        

The Prey, Robert Arthur Smith

“I got a hold of Robert Arthur Smith’s The Prey when I was about 9. Made me like scary stories even more, and there were some sensual scenes in there that made me feel all warm and flushed, though I didn’t know why at the time…” —L.J. Bothell

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Animal Farm George Orwell

“When I was 11 my parent’s drug me to a BBQ that I didn’t want to go to….I found Animal Farm in the back window of the car….two years later I realized that it wasn’t about a farm.” —Debbie Boe Short

“In fourth grade we were assigned animal books for a book report, and I’ve always hated animal books, so I chose Animal Farm because my mom told me that it wasn’t really about animals. So I got an early lesson in Russian history that I didn’t much understand.” —Rachel Krupitsky

And more on George Orwell…

1984 when I was 11 or 12. Such a powerful book that I would come to appreciate later in high school and college as assigned reading, but at that earlier time I was still too young and unprepared for the oppression and torture. I was also not mature enough to grasp the larger socio-political themes.” —Wendy Lawless

The Crazy Ladies, Joyce Elbert

The Crazy Ladies Joyce Elbert

“I was in grade school walking home from school when a car load of high school kids drove by me. One of the girls threw this really thick paperback out the window laughing. I picked it up and took it home and I was never the same.” —Viki Hydrick

“My mom wouldn’t let me read Rosemary’s Baby. This was before the movie came out. I borrowed it from a friend and read it under the covers with a flashlight. I was about 13. I thought the book was pretty tame. My mother (I found out years later) objected to the idea of a married woman having sex with someone other than her husband.” —Sheila Pickering

 

Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann

Valley of the Dolls Jacqueline Susann

“My mother told me 12 was way to young, so I would read it when she wasn’t home. Recently bought the 50th anniversary edition! It’s so pretty.” —Pam Kniess

“Oh, Valley of the Dolls. It was quite racy way back when it first came out. I was 16. Also, 16 was much younger then than it is today.😉 ” —Marna Lister

Cat on the Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams

 

“I was 9 when I read Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It broke my heart. Poor Brick-so misunderstood. Poor Big Daddy-so disrespected. I was too young to understand the relationships and how alcoholism and patriarchy permeated the character interactions. I read it again when I was 20, and realized that the alcoholism and patriarchy are, indeed, two of the major characters in the story line. My heart was no longer broken, and my sympathy for Big Daddy and Brick was demolished.” —Lynne Thomas

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty Anne Rice

“Anne Rice! I thought the Sleeping Beauty books would be like the fairy tales … noooooope.” —Eli Claire Sandoval-Peck

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

 

Lolita (at 13/14 years old) … [My friend and I] managed to sneak it from her room, hide it, & read it together without parents knowing. Much different perspective when I re-read it as an adult.” —Kathy Bunker

Helter Skelter, Curt Gentry and Vincent Bugliosi

 

“Couldn’t sleep for weeks. I’m still too young (50 something) to read it.” —Bonnie Murphy Morrison

“An immature 15 year old had no business reading this book. However, it did turn me into an avid reader.” —Dana Hawkins Blakeslee

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Gone With the Wind Margaret Mitchell

“I read Gone with the Wind at 12, in the very early 1960s. A few years later I was startled to recall—’Oh, THAT’S what they were talking about.’😂  ” —Jomary Hilliard Bolles

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. My brother took it from my mother’s books. He read the book, read parts to me and then gave it to me to read. I was maybe 10 y/o…It’s a book I’ve never forgotten.” —Danielle Clark

“…That book was very traumatic.” —Kimberly Gooden Bumpas

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