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Retro 80s Flashback: 14 Books I Read As A Middle-Grader and Their Modern-Day Equivalents

*I have updated this post from 2012 to include modern-day equivalents of the books I loved so much in the mid-1980s.*

Ah, 1985. You gave us Garbage Pail Kids, “We Are the World,” New Coke, Back to the Future, and Windows 1.0. I started fifth grade in 1985, and it was the first year I really, really got into reading. I read a ton of paperbacks in fifth and sixth grade.

By the time I got deeper into middle school, I was reading mostly adult books, practically skipping the entire YA genre altogether. How ironic that, though I passed over YA literature as a teen, I read YA almost exclusively as an adult. I did not list the adult titles here, but for the record, I read a ton of Stephen King and V.C. Andrews in middle school.

I really had to dig deep to remember some of these titles! It’s interesting to note that nearly all the books I remember reading are realistic fiction, a genre I still like and read often.

Who’s Reading Darci’s Diary (Martha Tolles)
Gasp! Darci’s beloved diary has gone missing! Could Travis (the cutest boy in 6th grade) be reading it? Oh, no!

This one was published in November 1985. I can remember reading it after a test in Mr. Warren’s sixth grade science class. I think it’s time for a reread because I cannot for the life of me remember who actually stole the diary, or if it was simply misplaced.

Modern-day equivalent: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

The Sara Summer (Mary Downing Hahn)
I had NO IDEA this was by Mary Downing Hahn until I wrote this post! It was her first novel. Mind=blown.

The Sara Summer was my first introduction to the term “Teen Queens.” I remember this one vividly because I read it TWELVE times in the summer before 6th grade. The cover at left is not the one I had. Mine had a girl in braids (Sara) swinging in a hammock and a blonde girl (Emily) looking on skeptically. I couldn’t find an image of my copy.

Modern-day equivalent: Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Hey, Remember Fat Glenda? (Lila Perl)
“A moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips.”

I sometimes still think about this quote when I want to eat something fattening, like the chocolate chip cookie I’m eating as I write this post. From about 4th grade to maybe 8th grade, I was a bit chunkier than many girls my age. It was more puberty/baby fat as I was pretty active in sports, but it definitely bothered me. I loved (and still love!) reading books about other fat girls. Fat Glenda is won’t be the last “fat chick makeover” theme on this list.

Modern-day equivalent: Skinny by Donna Cooner

Me and Fat Glenda (Lila Perl)
I read the sequel (Hey, Remember Fat Glenda?) first, and it inspired me to read this one.

These girls look about as real as they come. The one with the shorter hair was me in 5th grade–I even had a striped sweater just like that. I picked it out from the DAV Thrift Store (my favorite place to shop!).

Modern-day equivalent: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

The Computer That Said Steal Me (Elizabeth Levy)
I don’t remember much about this book except they played computerized chess and Dungeons and Dragons, which I had never heard of at the time. I remember thinking the chess game was some kind of magnetic talking chess board.

It was published in 1983, but I read it two years later, when I was in 5th grade. I’m pretty sure this was a Scholastic catalogs selection. Man, I loved those catalogs!

Modern-day equivalent: Every Shiny Thing (Cordelia Jenson)

Sweet Valley High series (Francine Pascal)
Oh, how I LOVED this series! Porche-driving bad boy Bruce Patman was, like, sooo bad! I read up through number 12 (the one where Steven’s girlfriend Tricia dies of leukemia) before I got tired of the series and moved on. Did you know that this series ended in 2012, with 181 total books across multiple spin-off series? WOW.

Modern-day equivalent: Ummm…I can’t think of any series for teens that have run this long. It’s like the Days of our Lives of YA literature. I would say the modern day equivalent is this series itself.

Will I Ever Dance Again? (Lurlene McDaniel)
I’m pretty sure this has been retitled as Last Dance because the description is exactly the same. And, when I type “Will I Ever Dance Again?” into Titlewave, only Last Dance comes up.

I read this one while spending the night at my friend Susan’s house in 6th grade. I read it all in that one night. Reading at a sleepover? What can I say except I have been and always will be a big ol’ book nerd. At least Susan was a reading nerd, too.

Modern-day equivalent: The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit (Paula Danziger)
Another “fat girl” story loved by this former fat girl. To this day, I still write my cursive letter Ns and Ms in spiky humps, just like Nancy did in her notes to Marcy in the book. I also read and loved the sequel, There’s a Bat in Bunk Five.

Like Sweet Valley High, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and There’s A Bat in Bunk Five have gotten cover facelifts and are still in-print.

Modern-day equivalent: Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson

Behind the Attic Wall (Sylvia Cassedy)
I don’t remember much about this one except I read it in 5th grade, I got it in a Scholastic catalog, and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. The girl talks to dolls. Creepy, but not very scary.

Modern-day equivalent: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade (Barthe DeClements)
It looks like this one has also been updated recently! I guess some issues (bulling, exclusion, troubled family life) are timely, even nearly 40 years after publication. I think I read this in 4th grade because I remember the girls in the story seemed so grown-up to me. This features yet another fat girl–Elsie–trying to fit in among her peers.

Modern-day equivalent (YA): Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Ring, The Sword, and the Unicorn (James M. Ward, Jeff Easley)
My first Choose-Your-Own-Adventure! I got it for Christmas and read all the adventures multiple times. What a cool concept!

Choose Your Own Adventure books are still in-print and in my library, but I do wish the publisher would update the front covers. And make the books a little larger–they are constantly pushed back on my library shelves.

Modern-day equivalent (all are series): You Choose, Click Your Poison, Chooseable-Path

Bummer Summer (Ann M. Martin)
My dad let us get a new kitten in the summer before sixth grade, around the time I was reading Bummer Summer. I liked this book so much that I named my new kitten “Simon” after Kammy’s kitten Simon. Simon was part of our family until until he finally died 11 years later. I was 22.

Bummer Summer has also gotten a facelift and is still in-print!

Modern-day equivalent: All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Rumble Fish (S.E. Hinton)
Rumble Fish has next-to-nothing to do with fish (the title is a metaphor). I really loved this book! As a girl growing up in the scenic serenity of the Appalachian Mountains, the urban setting and tough characters was really something different for me. Rumble Fish is still in print, and I have it in my library today. With the eighth grade novel study of The Outsiders, all of Hinton’s books get a good bit of checkout.

Modern-day equivalent: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Wren (Marie Killilea)
Wren is about a girl whose younger sister is born prematurely and has cerebral palsy. This book, along with actress Geri Jewell on The Facts of Life, were my first introduction to cerebral palsy. Thankfully, today’s young readers’ literary market provides a wide variety of titles that feature disabled characters.

Modern-day equivalent: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Which of these have you read? Have some more 80s favorites to add? Please comment! I’m sure I’ve forgotten some good ones!


  • Since I was spending my junior year in college abroad in 1985, I have nothing middle grade to add to this list, but it's fascinating. Later in the 80s, a friend made me read a lot of Cynthia Voigt, which I thought was pretty depressing, and Jacob Have I Loved. I do have fond memories of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, which was really new when I read it! Fun!

  • I haven't read any of these, but the style of these covers! They're so 80s! It's so distinct – the kinds of illustrations, the font used!

  • This is awesome! Ahhhh…Behind the Attic Wall! This is the first book that I remember reading start to finish in one day – picked it up one morning when I was about 11 years old and on summer break and couldn't put it down!

  • Wait, is The Ring, The Sword, and the Unicorn the one where you could be transformed into a unicorn if you set up a circle of stones?

    • Hmmm…I'm not sure. What I remember is three paths: on one path, a ring. On the middle path, a sword. And on the third path, a galloping unicorn. Is this the one you are thinking of?

  • Loved this post! I was more a child of the 70's and like you, I also read a lot of Stephen King (still do) and VC Andrews and (I hate to admit it) a lot of Harlequin Romances. I don't remember reading any YA literature except for all of the Little House on the Prairie books. I also enjoyed reading books like Little Women and Jane Eyre. Thank goodness for a wonderful teacher who read to us Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver and Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I insisted my mother buy me my own copies of those so I could read ahead! Thanks for sharing your walk down memory lane with us. It brought back some good memories for me of my own!

    • I can remember reading Harlequins in the bookstore with my best friend in about 7th grade. We would read them out loud to each other in "throaty, sexy voices." Now, that sounds so weird to me that we did that, but we did it often! What the other customers must have thought!

  • I've read so many of these. Takes me back to my childhood. I read so many of the Sweet Valley Highs!

    • I'm interested in reading some of the adult Sweet Valleys! I looked some of them up, and you'll never guess who Bruce Patman marries…

  • I'm a child of the 50s, so these books are after my time. But I've been an elementary school librarian for 25 years, and many of these books were in my Library when I arrived. The covers definitely bring back memories, and I've bought many of the new versions, especially the graphic books.
    Since you are a self-described fan of "fat girl" books, you should get a copy of Junior Miss by Sally Benson. It was published in 1941, and I remember devouring it as a painfully chubby 5th grader in the late 50s. I bought a copy of it recently on Amazon, and honestly couldn't finish it because it brought back such painful memories of feeling like a fat outsider. It's a very sweet book though, and I'd recommend reading it (as a more confident adult however)!

    • I feel like I could write an entire blog of my experiences as a "fat girl" in the 1980s and 1990s. I'll have to check out Junior Miss–I love that it is from 1941!

  • Loved this! Felt like a trip down memory lane. I too loved Sweet Valley high! I feel like my middle school years were spent reading anything by Judy Blume & of course the entire Baby-Sitter’s club!

    • I remember my sister reading The Babysitter's Club! I am so happy Raina Telgemeier is doing these as graphic novels now. They are super-popular in my library!

  • I love your blog and find it so helpful. I'm a 5th-6th grade librarian. I also happen to be the exact same age as you, so wow, this was seriously a trip down memory lane to me! I don't know how you have time to do all this, but THANK YOU!


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