The best books about teens in the 1990s growing up in the Midwest

Ryan Standley Author Of To the Top of Greenfield Street
By Ryan Standley

Who am I?

I was a teen in the midwest in the 1990s, so my debut novel, To the Top of Greenfield Street, really hits home. There’s something so potent about where I grew up, and who I met at that formative age, that doesn’t leave me, no matter how hard I try. Professionally or non, I’ve always written, drawn, and acted on stage, and the theater background ensured every conflict in my book was soaked with in-the-moment urgency and discovery. Most of all, I wanted honesty to come through. Thoughts and decisions were as real as possible, and characters breathed with laughter and tears along the way.

I wrote...

To the Top of Greenfield Street

By Ryan Standley,

Book cover of To the Top of Greenfield Street

What is my book about?

After tragedy strikes, Eric (15) starts over in a small town and excels at his first job, but once he lands his first kiss, he’s attacked by a jealous friend. Eric endures, adapts, and finds that peace on Greenfield Street never lasts long.

The debut novel won the 2021 American Fiction Award and was described by Shelf Unbound Magazine as “Hope that makes you believe in yourself.” Publishers Weekly declared it “A vulnerable narrative that will resonate.”

The books I picked & why

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Stephen Chbosky,

Book cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why this book?

Perks is the most popular coming of age book in recent years and since I write coming of age, his book was a must for me. I loved Chbosky’s carved-out, original characters as well as his balance of realism, romance, violence, and intrigue. The only con, for me, would be the book’s checklist of conflicts. By the end, it seemed like every single possible thing that could go wrong, did go wrong for Charlie, which I found slightly unrealistic, in an otherwise great story.

Tortilla Flat

By John Steinbeck,

Book cover of Tortilla Flat

Why this book?

First off, I love the classics, and Steinbeck was a master. I recommend this book because it makes an appearance in my book. Tortilla was an inspiration. I loved the way Steinbeck casually described the average goings-on, for an average day, with average people. Sometimes novels don’t need to be bursting with conflict. And Steinbeck was a setting pro, I saw his little town and felt it. Vignettes were relatable individually and as one whole tale. Tragedy, comedy, and humor were all there, and totally accessible in one of Steinbeck’s less serious endeavors.

The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse

By Rich Cohen,

Book cover of The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse

Why this book?

My debut novel contains a scene at Wrigley Field, and why not? It’s the most beautiful stadium in professional sports and an unforgettable place to visit. Rich Cohen does a great job with his retelling of the bittersweet 2016 season when the Cubbies finally won it all. He also blends in some little-known historical trivia, without getting too dry, or stat-overloading, like many sportsbooks. Also, Cohen brings in himself, with his own first-person Cubs stories, which I love to see in narrative nonfiction.  

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

By David Grann,

Book cover of The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

Why this book?

David Grann is the king of non-fiction to me. His narrative is so smooth and exciting it’s like reading fiction. I currently have one published book, which is coming of age, but there's some adventure involved, and I’ve always loved the idea of someday writing a treasure hunt. Grann describes the exploration age perfectly, with Percy Fawcett at the helm, until the explorer’s infamous disappearance. Grann enjoys the mysteries of the Amazon so much, that he must visit the jungle himself by the end. Grann replied to my tweet when I reviewed this book. How cool is that?  

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

By J.K. Rowling, Mary Grandpré (illustrator),

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Why this book?

Gotta give some love to the most groundbreaking novel in recent history. Over 500-million sold! This was the novel that made kids’ books cool, even for adults to read. My debut novel is considered YA, but adults like it too. Why not? We were all kids once. There’s something great about writing for a younger crowd, it’s more fun to make discoveries, and the stakes are so high. While Rowling has met controversy over the years, Harry Potter should remain a staple on every bookshelf. Rowling made fantasy accessible, inspired the imaginations of millions, and created a magical universe that will live on forever.

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