At that point (and actually, still to this day), I had never read a Klein book besides “Mom, The Wolf Man and Me.” A lot of her canon was way before my time. So I didn’t know that her YA list frequently courted controversy — and, of course, often made the banned books list. A young 14-year-old in the days pre-Internet-everything, I was blissfully unaware.
And this book, “Just Friends,” looked innocent enough. It was about Isabel and Stuart, two smart teenagers who grew up together as pals — and, as usual, had a bit of trouble navigating their relationship once hormones and teen angst kicked in. Isabel had feelings for Stuart, and Stuart was going out with their other friend, Ketti. So, to get on with her life, Isabel hooked up with the gawky, skinny, unappealing but decidedly available-and-interested Gregory. And it’s with him that she experiences some of those awkward teen firsts.
And that was the shocking part. Unlike other teen fare I’d read, Norma Klein wasn’t afraid to go there, the body parts, the confusion, the humiliation. Klein drew her characters in 3D, from the teens facing the trauma of growing up and apart to the adults dealing with their own version of adolescent angst. It was a vivid, satisfying and frequently shocking read. And it made me want to write.
In fact, I do recall some horribly derivative dribble I scribbled back in the day, at all of 14, which may be officially dubbed my first attempt at fiction. I likely have it stashed in one of my high school journals, never to be seen by prying eyes. There it will remain. But when I think of books with bang, Klein’s books, as little as I’ve read of it, surely make the list. In fact, maybe I’ll go back into teen fiction history and hunt down some more of her titles this summer, to see what I missed.