Proud of your retro '90s YA and middle grade book knowledge? Think you know all there is to know about goofy books with light pink covers and girls with neon sweaters on them? Well listen up, hot shot: Any schmo off the street can rattle off a list of Claudia's best outfits, draw a detailed map of Fear Street, or remember the name of the weird club that Jessica Wakefield and Lila Fowler had in middle school (it was the Unicorn Club, and I still don't understand what it was about). You might even be able to explain what an animorph is, or guesstimate how many prom queens turned out to be Satanic lizard people from the Earth's molten core in Christopher Pike novels.
And that's all well and good. But are you serious about nostalgia? Are you serious about the '90s? Are you serious about remembering a bunch of stuff that nobody remembers or cares about, instead of learning a useful skill?
Then, friend, you have landed in the right place. This village of the damned of forgotten '90s tween series novels runs the entire gamut from Babysitter's Club knock-offs to... uh... Sweet Valley High knock-offs. I dare you to waste your afternoon in a haze of memories of scrunchies and Capri-Sun and confidently wearing stirrup pants. I double-dare you. Come on. Don't make me get out my Girl Talk dare wheel.
ALWAYS FRIENDS CLUB by Susan Meyers
This series — which only published in 1995 — covered the lives of a few 10-year-old girls who got into some mischievous scrapes, but in the end were, yes, always friends. Did any of the members of the Always Friends Club take it to the next level, and become Always Best Friends? We'll never know, because you can't even buy copies of these books online anywhere. All we can do is stare at this picture of two girls joyfully washing a dog and imagine.
THE BAILEY SCHOOL KIDS by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones
The Bailey School Kids dedicated more than a decade to checking to see if everyone in their small town was actually secretly a monster (answer: probably, but we'll never know for sure, let's just eat lunch instead of thinking about it more). Though it feels like a softer Goosebumps knock-off, this series actually predated Goosebumps by two years, with the series' first volume appearing in 1990. However, even with all of that extra time, the Bailey Kids never quite achieved the heights of popularity that similar series reached, and also were never able to come to a firm consensus on the whole "angels vs. karate" issue.
BONE CHILLERS by Betsey Haynes
Bone Chillers ran from 1994 to 1998, delivering 23 volumes that were absolutely nothing like that other series about kids living in frustrating and terrifying small towns full of monsters that no adults ever seemed to believe them about, okay? This Goosebumps knock-off did deviate from its source material by having all of its haunted malls and murderous housepets victimize a steady set of teens, who all attended Edgar Allan Poe High School. The series even had its own Saturday morning TV show in 1996. But even given how goofy and derivative it is, it's hard to not like a series that had the cajones to name one of its volumes "Why I Quit the Babysitter's Club."
CAMP COUNSELORS by Diane Ames
Summer camp is, depending on your temperament, a place to make lifelong friends, a place to be socially ostracized, or a place to learn the finer points of getting to second base. This short-lived series put its focus on the "friendship" and "second base" part of the sleepaway camp experience, focusing on a group of charmingly horny camp counselors at a place called Camp Kissme (which was, confusingly, not located in Kissimmee).
COUSINS by Colleen O'Shaughnessy McKenna
There was a point in the '90s tween book craze when it seemed like publishing execs were just pointing to every single thing that came up in their daily lives and commissioning a half-baked series about it. This series, which only published four lonely volumes in 1993, seems like an excellent example of where this system inevitably led. You know, they're cousins! Who knows what kind of hijinks they could get into?! Like... not seeing each other for a few years at a time, and then making awkward conversation at family BBQs! \
GIRL TALK by L. E. Blair
Based on the mean-girl/hazing-based board game of the same name, this series surprisingly did not focus on a group of cruel best friends who all forced each other to confess their crushes under threat of the dreaded zit sticker. Instead, it followed the adventures of a group of five friends... who were girls... who also talked... to each other. After the makers of the board game tried and failed to spin the game off into a TV show in 1989 (starring a very young Sarah Michelle Gellar!), they quickly popped out this 45-volume series, which ran from 1990 to 1992, to very little impact.
HELP! I'M TRAPPED... by Todd Strasser
You wouldn't think there would be that many ways to finish the above sentence, right? "...in a well"? "...in the closet"? "...in a deeply unhappy relationship that I committed to way too quickly"? But the Help! I'm Trapped... series finished that sentence 17 different ways with 17 different books between 1993 and 2001, all of which featured body-swapping protagonists getting stuck in slightly more glamorous things, like Santa's body, a supermodel's body, and an alien's body. You know, now that I think about it, that's actually not too bad a way to wait out the end of middle school...
NIGHTMARE HALL by Diane Hoh
was the O.G. teen horror series, a multi-author serial that launched writers like R.L. Stine into the teen horror stratosphere where they still reside today. Point Horror also gave birth to some lesser-known spin-offs, like this 28-volume series that ran from 1993 to 1995. The books follow students attending Salem University (OF COURSE), where people are constantly dying and disappearing and turning out to be murderers. The premise of Nightmare Hall begs some important questions — unlike, say, the kids of Fear Street, students living in Nightmare Hall could easily move, transfer, or drop out of school all together. Hell, I remember being on the verge of transferring or dropping out for all four years of college, and the scariest thing that happened to me there was accidentally wearing sweatpants to a kind of nice restaurant. But whatever floats your (murder) boat, I guess?
PEN PALS by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
Running from 1989 to 1991, this 20-book series cashed in on the early '90s mania for watching rich people act like jerks to each other (see: Sweet Valley, 90210, et al). A group of roommates at an all-girls boarding school find some male pen pals, and somehow manage to turn that into an excuse for fighting with each other all the time — making these books an important historical document for anyone who thinks social media invented weird high school drama.
THE PINK PARROTS by Lucy Ellis
Produced by the then-new Sports Illustrated for Kids, this series followed an all-girls baseball team composed of endearing '80s female teen stereotypes (bossy tomboy, spineless best friend of the bossy tomboy, lovable bimbo, etc). The series only ran for two years, producing 6 books from 1990 to 1991, but its emphasis on female equality was appreciated in a genre that generally avoided political messages in favor of focusing on sleepovers and those pens that had, like, 19 different colors.
SADDLE CLUB by Bonnie Bryant
The most wildly popular book series that you don't remember at all, Saddle Club put out more than 100 books between 1988 and 2001, which technically makes it an '80s, '90s, and '00s series, giving the BSC and those maniacs over in Sweet Valley a run for their money. It was, obviously, about horses, and spun off into a pretty popular TV show and a line of toy horses. It, like pretty much every '90s book series, had a main character named Stephanie. What was that about? I mean, I'm not angry, I'm just asking.
SLEEPOVER FRIENDS by Susan Saunders
This very early '90s series (not to be confused with Sleepover Club or The Sleepover Squad) followed the sleepover-based adventures of group of tween girls who had sleepovers in some kind of shed in the backyard, where they helped each other out with 5th grade romantic troubles, school projects, and making their hair oh-so-fluffy. If you actually remember these books, this post rewriting a Sleepover Friends book in the style of Chuck Palanuik might be the funniest thing you read all day. Also, wait, who has sleepovers in a shed?