ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now, the latest entry in our series for young teens, PG-13. It's during these early adolescent years that young readers really start to crave adult ideas. Author Emily Danforth remembers the age and the book that transformed her view of the world and of herself. It's called "Rubyfruit Jungle."
EMILY DANFORTH: I was at a garage sale when I found "Rubyfruit Jungle." I was there with my grandmother. She was looking at tablecloths. I was browsing books. Mostly, they were hardcover and boring, but then I found this little paperback with a funny title. And there it was, on the back, a reviewer praising this account of what it's like growing up lesbian in America. I think I flinched. I was 12 years old. Everything embarrassed me. But it was such a private word to put in such a public place, on the book cover.
I had to have it. I couldn't ask my grandmother to buy it for me because then she'd know this thing about me that I wasn't even sure I knew about myself. But I needed to read it. So I stole it. And I read it in secret gulps. I snuck bits of it whenever I could. The thing is I wanted too much from this book and its narrator, Molly. What I really wanted wasn't even a novel. It was more of a manual on how to be a girl who likes girls even if you're from a small town in the middle of nowhere. And that's just not what this book is.
Molly's circumstances aren't great. But she outmaneuvers people's judgments about her just by being smart and determined, neither of which I was in junior high. She conquers grammar school, then high school. She even seduces the head cheerleader, the whole time showing off her unique blend of wit and beauty. Oh, yeah, did I mention she's gorgeous too? Sure, she's kicked out of college when the dean discovers her romantic relationship with her roommate.
And sure, she ends up sleeping in a car on the streets of Manhattan. But you never really believe she's in trouble. She's too brash and feisty. If she's going to be my model of lesbianism, I figured I might as well give up now. She was just so unlike me. I didn't have that kind of confidence, and I didn't know where to look for it. What I know now that I couldn't have understood then is that "Rubyfruit Jungle" was important because it was confusing and frustrating.
It made me see that there were so many ways to be a girl who likes girls. Eventually, I even realized I didn't need to be Molly. What I could be was someone who understood her world, someone who understood her choices, and this is the novel that started me on my way to that place.
SIEGEL: Emily Danforth is the author of the coming-of-age novel "The Miseducation of Cameron Post." She recommended "Rubyfruit Jungle" by Rita Mae Brown. At our website, you can find more PG-13 recommendations as well as lists of summer reads from our critics and correspondents. That's all at nprbooks.org.
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