The best books with bell bottoms and big hair: novels featuring the 70s and 80s

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up, a child of the eighties, in a Minneapolis household filled with music and dance. My mom took me to see the movie Purple Rain when I was thirteen and I was never the same. And though I no longer rat and spray the life out of my hair, I’ve always felt an affinity for the decade. The music of the time inspired so much of what we hear today. Notes and lyrics are just another forms of story. So, please enjoy my list. And if you find your foot tapping, pop in a cassette, a CD, or maybe even spin a record while you read. 

I wrote...

The Turning Pointe

By Vanessa L. Torres,

Book cover of The Turning Pointe

What is my book about?

When sixteen-year-old Rosa Dominguez pirouettes, she is poetry in pointe shoes. As the daughter of a tyrant ballet Master, Rosa seems destined to become the star principal dancer of her studio. But Rosa would do anything for one hour in the dance studio upstairs where Prince, the Purple One himself, is in the house.

After her father announces their upcoming auditions for a concert with Prince, Rosa is more determined than ever to succeed. Then Nikki—the cross-dressing, funky boy who works in the dance shop—leaps into her life. Rosa is at a crossroads, desperate to escape so she can show everyone what she can do when freed of her pointe shoes. Now is her chance to break away, grooving to that unmistakable Minneapolis sound reverberating through her body. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Gimme Everything You Got

Vanessa L. Torres Why did I love this book?

This wonderful YA set in the seventies is part Booksmart with a bit of Judy Blume sprinkled in. I love humor in books and at times, this one will have you snorting your latte through your nose. The story follows Susan, an aspiring soccer player who just happens to have the hots for the foxy coach. What follows is a book that shines a light on a teenage girl owning her sexuality, building lasting friendships, and discovering what she really wants. I loved this book and though I read it a while ago, it has stuck with me in such a good way.

By Iva-Marie Palmer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gimme Everything You Got as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“One part Judy Blume, one part Amy Schumer, Gimme Everything You Got is incredibly warm, bracingly frank, and laugh-out-loud hilarious. I didn't want the game to end.” —Katie Cotugno, New York Times bestselling author of 99 Days

It's 1979—the age of roller skates and feathered bangs, Charlie’s Angels and Saturday Night Fever—and Susan Klintock is a junior in high school with a lot of sexual fantasies . . . but not a lot of sexual experience. No boy—at least not any she knows—has been worth taking a shot on.

That is, until Bobby McMann arrives.

Bobby is foxy, he’s charming…

Book cover of Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win: A Novel

Vanessa L. Torres Why did I love this book?

I had the wonderful opportunity to read this YA novel as an ARC. It debuts on November 1st 2022, so put your patient pants on for this one. 

It’s 1979, and Jasmine Zumideh, an Iranian American music-journalist-in-the-making, embellishes on her application to NYU. When her coveted acceptance letter arrives, she must win her school’s election for Class President to turn her lie into the truth. 

What I loved about this debut was although it tackled the complications of embracing one’s identity and culture, and how confusing and messy this can be, it was also a fun romp down the halls of the decade without feeling forced or dated. Life-altering events of the time were woven in seamlessly—The Iran Hostage Crisis, making for a heartfelt story about the hidden strength and perseverance of a teenage girl navigating discrimination, family expectations, friendships and a new love. Put this one on your pre-order list!

By Susan Azim Boyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Most Anticipated YA by Buzzfeed, BookRiot, Epic Reads, Publishers Weekly, and more!

A fresh spin on the cult-classic Election meets Darius the Great Is Not Okay in Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win when an international incident crashes into a high school election, and Jasmine is caught between doing the right thing and chasing her dream.

It’s 1979, and Jasmine Zumideh is ready to get the heck out of her stale, Southern California suburb and into her dream school, NYU, where she’ll major in journalism and cover New York City’s exploding music scene.

There’s just one teeny problem: Due to a…

Book cover of Eleanor & Park

Vanessa L. Torres Why did I love this book?

This book swept me back to the eighties and those Hell-days of riding the school bus and yeah, maybe carrying a tray of mystery meat through a packed lunchroom. However, where this story really shines is the budding romance between the two main characters. Just try and leave them behind after finishing the last word. Believe me, their journey will linger. 

Painful silence between Eleanor and Park blossoms into an unbreakable bond as we follow the pair over the course of one school year. They come to each other from very different places, but by the end, you’ll want these two to carve their names in a tree and be together forever. 

Like all perfect love stories, this one does not come without tragic circumstances and lots of tears. For readers like me, who long for love on the page, this one will not disappoint. 

By Rainbow Rowell,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Eleanor & Park as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

'Reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love, but what it's like to be young and in love with a book' John Green, author of The Fault in our Stars

Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she's never felt more alone. All mismatched clothes, mad red hair and chaotic home life, she couldn't stick out more if she tried.

Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. Quiet, careful and - in Eleanor's eyes - impossibly cool, Park's worked out that flying under the radar is the best way to…

Book cover of The Music Shop

Vanessa L. Torres Why did I love this book?

Though this book was a recent read for me, it’s been out there for a while. I’m surprised I missed it until now, which makes it all the sweeter. 

I love unexpected finds like The Music Shop. And just like the book, we follow Frank, the owner of a vinyl record shop in 1988 London, where customers roam the jam-packed rows in search of a gem among endless stacks of music. 

Frank has an ear for matching the perfect record to every person who walks through his door. Then he meets Ilse, who challenges him in a way that rocks his world. 

The soundtrack for this book is an awesome companion, something I always look for in a book. Check out Spotify for a listen while you follow Frank and Isle’s wonderfully complicated and yet deeply beautiful relationship. 

By Rachel Joyce,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Music Shop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BBC Radio 4 BOOK AT BEDTIME from 17-28 July. From the author of the world-wide bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a new novel about learning how to listen and how to feel; and about second chances and choosing to be brave despite the odds. Because in the end, music can save us all ...
1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk - as long as it's vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.
Then into his life…

Book cover of The Carrie Diaries

Vanessa L. Torres Why did I love this book?

Though you couldn’t pay me one million dollars to wear giant shoulder pads again, I’m taking you there with this one because it’s all about eighties fashion with The Carrie Dairies. And who can resist, because those high-waisted acid-wash jeans seem to have come back full circle to haunt us.  

This book was a bit removed from my usual picks, but I couldn’t resist with all the hype about The Carrie Diaries TV show. It’s a Sex and the City flashback to Carrie Bradshaw’s 1980’s senior year. And like the wildly popular, decade-defining television show, this book series has everything for your guilty pleasures. Really, it’s a super-fun easy read and serves to answer those nagging questions we all had about Carrie’s past when SATC was at its height. But proceed with caution. You may find yourself slapping on some blue eyeliner and iridescent lip stick.  

By Candace Bushnell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Carrie Diaries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

This #1 New York Times bestselling prequel to Sex and the City is now a CW TV series!

The Carrie Diaries is the coming-of-age story of Carrie Bradshaw, one of the most iconic characters of New York City and our generation.

Before Sex and the City, Carrie was a small-town girl who knew she wanted more. She's ready for real life to start, but first she must navigate her senior year of high school.

Up until now, Carrie and her friends have been inseparable. Then Sebastian Kydd comes into the picture, and a friend's betrayal makes her question everything.


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A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

Book cover of A Sparrow Falls

Vicki Olsen Author Of A Sparrow Falls

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Air Force brat World War 2 junkie Gallivanter Beret-wearing Francophile Book hoarder

Vicki's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In this book set against the backdrop of a changing America, Sarah must find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and come to terms with her future. Sarah, a young woman from the rural town of Tolerance, Arkansas, has endured an impoverished and painful childhood.

But now, as the innocence of the 1950s transforms into the turbulent 1960s, Sarah must find the strength to overcome her traumas, forgive those who have wronged her, and discover her true self. With its moving and often disturbing narrative, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman's journey…

A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

What is this book about?

A moving, sometimes disturbing, beautifully written book...Amazon Customer Review
Set in Arkansas as the innocence of the 1950s morphs into the turbulent ‘60s, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman emerging from an impoverished and traumatic childhood as she finds the inner strength to overcome her past. Te ghosts of the past and come to terms with her future is in the strength to forgive those who have wronged her?
Content Advisory: This book is intended for mature audiences and contains child sexual abuse and disturbing imagery.

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