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Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview With the Vampire, with long curly blond hair and blood dripping from his fangs

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9 classic, steamy reads for teens to pass around the camp cabin

’90s kids remember — but everybody else should, too

Photo: Warner Bros.

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Maddy Myers has run Polygon’s games section since 2020 as deputy editor. She has worked in games journalism since 2007, at Kotaku, The Mary Sue, and the Boston Phoenix.

When I went to summer camp in the 1990s, Twilight and The Hunger Games hadn’t hit yet. So what the heck were teen girls passing around the cabin back then? Allow me to share my own collection, dog-eared and well-loved by hormonal, melodramatic teenage me.

Before Team Jacob and Team Edward, I was debating between George and Jonathan in Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, in which a young female knight chooses between a prince and a master thief (as a kid, I preferred the prince, to the shock of my friends — and as an adult, I admit they were right). Then there were the deliciously trashy stylings of V.C. Andrews, best known for Flowers in the Attic, a thriller about kidnapping, child abuse, and incest. These were the sorts of books that I packed in my trunk and hauled with me to overnight camp — where I’d trade them with other girls for their own romance novels, or find more in the camp lending library.

The library at my camp included some seriously steamy adult fiction, some of which was not even remotely age-appropriate, let alone well-written. Thanks to overnight camp, I read all of My Secret Life, an anonymous memoir about a Victorian man’s sexual escapades in brothels and similar venues. That’s not going to be on this list! Back in those days, I read a lot of other great books with romantic stories that I still recommend to today’s teens. Let’s turn back the clock, shall we?

What are you looking for?

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I Capture the Castle

The heroine of Smith’s novel may be from the 1930s, but she still wants to be a Jane Austen heroine — timeless! The coming-of-age story includes plenty of romance and familial strife, all recounted in this fictional diary by said heroine, who learns how to speed-write in shorthand so she can keep up with penning her life’s twists and turns.

Interview with the Vampire

Perhaps it’s not quite right to describe Interview with the Vampire as a steamy romance novel, since it’s not exactly romantic or sexually explicit, but I would argue that vampiric bloodlust is inherently sexual — especially with Anne Rice’s vampires, and even more especially if it’s a hormonal teenager turning the pages.

Maison Ikkoku

Rumiko Takahashi’s 15-volume manga is a slice-of-life romantic comedy about a college guy who falls in love with the young widow who runs his boarding house. She doesn’t have a clue about his feelings, and he’s too shy to tell her. The series is packed with sitcom-worthy setups and the unrequited, painful longing that many teenagers know well.


I read every V.C. Andrews book in my camp library, including her breakout hit Flowers in the Attic, but Runaways was my favorite back then. It’s preceded by four less impressive books about four teen girl orphans who became a found family for one another; Runaways is the culmination of their story, describing their escape from some truly terrible foster parents and their life on the run (including some love interests for a couple of the girls).

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging

The “snogging” in the title baffled me as a young American reader, but once I learned it meant “kissing,” Louise Rennison’s series had my attention. Like I Capture the Castle, it’s a fictional teen girl’s diary, but she’s a ’90s girl with Bridget Jones’ sense of humor. Tragically, I took years to learn this book was part of a series — the first one was the only one at my summer camp. Don’t sleep on reading the rest of heroine Georgia Nicolson’s confessions.

The Song of the Lioness Quartet

One of my favorite series (with one of the first books I ever read with actual sex in it), Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness books tell a story of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy so she can train to become a knight. She reveals her gender to only a few trusted friends, and naturally, two of them are boys who fall madly in love with her.

Howl’s Moving Castle

When Miyazaki’s animated adaptation for Howl’s Moving Castle came out in 2004, I didn’t see it right away, having been advised by my teen girl friends to read the book first. It’s less of a straightforward romantic story than the film, but that’s why it’s worth a look, especially for shy girls who can relate to Sophie’s reluctance in life (aka me when I first read this book).


Looking at source material that bears little resemblance to its more-famous adaptation, Wicked doesn’t play out like the Broadway musical. There’s a lot more drama, more unresolved conflicts, and, uh, the Wicked Witch gets it on.

X-Men: Phoenix Endsong

The original Phoenix Saga from the 1970s is well worth a read, although its story isn’t even close to as hot as Phoenix Endsong. This brief compilation dives into the love quadrangle of Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost, and perhaps more importantly, it features some downright orgasmic imagery of Jean Grey spewing fire in Phoenix form while begging Wolverine to kill and/or pleasure her.