The Book To Read Based On Your Favorite Throwback Reality Series, From 'Laguna Beach' To 'The City'
Even though reality television is still alive and well, there is something about the whole genre that feels very nostalgic to me. I don't watch many shows that would be considered part of the reality genre today (except the Queer Eye reboot, of course, because I want to be happy) but back in the early to mid-2000's? Oh, yeah, I was hooked on reality TV. So whenever I think on some of my personal favorite reality series, they're all definitely throwback status. There are the supremely underrated shows — like MTV's The Paper which aired in 2007 and played no small role in my decision to study journalism in college — and the mainstays like Laguna Beach. They all hold a special place in my pre-teen heart.
If you also find yourself thinking wistfully about the earlier days of reality shows, you're going to love the reading list below. I've put together a few of the best throwback series and paired them with a book you should definitely read if you want something that gives you the same vibes. You might never be able to recapture the wide-eyed youth of 2000's MTV, but these novels are the next best thing.
If You Loved 'The Paper' You Need To Read 'The Imperfectionists' by Tom Rachman
What The Show Is About: The Paper follows the lives of the staff members of the Cyprus Bay High School newspaper staff, zeroing in especially on the personal and "professional" drama between Editor-in-Chief, Amanda, and Managing Editor, Alex. What follows is a year full of changes, both on and off the newspaper page, along with some decent insight on what goes in to running a student-led newspaper.
Why You'll Love The Book: Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists also follows the staff of a newspaper — this time a struggling international English language newspaper in Rome — but it takes the the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives to a whole new level of intensity. If you loved the back-stabbing drama, occasional romance, and passion for journalism you got from The Paper as a teen, this is the book your adult heart has been craving.
If You Loved 'My Life As Liz' You Need To Read 'Geekerella' by Ashley Poston
What The Show Is About: What was supposed to be the sequel to The Paper became My Life As Liz, a "mockumentary" style show that follows Liz Lee and her band of merry misfits in their Texas high school. Liz is a little awkward, a little goofy, and very much uninterested in being friendly with most of her classmates — especially "mean girls" Cory Cooper and Taylor Terry. But when a class project with Taylor, and a crush on classmate Bryson, starts to get Liz out of her comfort zone, everything changes.
Why You'll Like The Book: Even though Geekerella is obviously a Cinderella retelling, there is so much overlap between it an My Life as Liz that I'm starting to think the reality show was a veiled modern fairytale itself. It follows "geek girl" Elle, who enters a cosplay competition in the hopes of meeting teen actor Darien Freeman. Along the way she realizes one of her evil stepsister may not be so evil, and that meeting Darien is only step one to embracing a bigger, bolder life.
If You Loved 'Laguna Beach' You Need To Read 'The Summer I Turned Pretty' by Jenny Han
What The Show Is About: Laguna Beach follows a group of wealthy Laguna Beach High School students and delves heavily into all of their personal and romantic drama. The show spawned a reality TV love triangle for the ages — between future The Hills star Lauren Conrad, Stephen Colletti and Kristin Cavallari — best friend break-up's, more snarky comebacks than you can count and basically made every 16-year-old wish their high school experience also included beach days, bonfires and house parties every other night.
Why You'll Like The Book: While there is decidedly less "cattiness" in Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy there are all the same elements that make one seriously entertaining story. The book follows Belly, who has spent every summer of her life with her mom, her mom's best friend Susannah, and Susannah's two sons Jeremiah and Conrad, at their beach house. But this summer, everything changes. Here we have another epic love triangle, tons of family and interpersonal dramas, and yes, more beautiful beach days.
If You Loved 'Rich Girls' You Need To Read 'She Regrets Nothing' by Andrea Dunlop
What The Show Is About: Rich Girls follows Ally Hilfiger (daughter of designer Tommy Hilfiger) and her best friend Jamie Gleisher the summer after they've graduated from high school. While the show was basically an endless romp of traveling and shopping, there are some more sinister moments lurking underneath the surface. Before the season ends, Ally has a nervous breakdown at her Hampton's home, and the friendship between both girls fractures under the pressure of their different future paths.
Why You'll Like The Book: She Regrets Nothing is also set in the world of the wealthy in New York City. After Laila Lawrence discovers that her late mother was actually part of a super wealthy family, she unexpectedly falls into the high class lives of her three cousins. Now that she's had a taste of what she's missed out on all these years, she becomes more determined than ever to claim what is rightfully hers and accidentally re-awakens a long-dead family scandal.
If You Loved 'Popstars' You Need To Read 'Fireworks' by Katie Cotugno
What The Show Is About: Before American Idol, there was Popstars. The short-lived series follows hundreds of women on their quest to snag one of five spots in the next big girl group.
Why You'll Like The Book: Katie Cotugno's Fireworks is basically Popstars in book form. It follows best friends Olivia and Dana after they are signed to a new girl group by mega-producer Guy Monroe. Thrust into the boy-band/girl-band world of 1990's Orlando, they are confronted by days of grueling practice and constant competition that threatens both their friendship and their chance at stardom. If the behind-the-scenes look at the making of a girl group is what you're after, get this book ASAP.
If You Loved 'The City' You Need To Read 'Playing With Matches' by Hannah Orenstein
What The Show Is About: The City, a spin-off from The Hills follows Whitney Port's move to New York City, where she began working for designer Diane Von Furstenberg. Though she is starting to make moves in her career, she still comes up against lots of personal and professional drama — including a work-place rivalry with DVF PR-girl Olivia Palermo.
Why You'll Like The Book: The City is all about about making it in New York, figuring out your life and career, and building strong female friendships to get you through it all. And Playing With Matches does all of the same when Sasha Goldberg unexpectedly falls into the professional matchmaking business and falls in love with someone totally off limits.
Disclosure: Hannah Orenstein is an editor at Bustle Digital Group.
If You Loved 'Teen Mom' You Need To Read 'Far From The Tree' by Robin Benway
What The Show Is About: The original Teen Mom, which aired in 2009, follows four teen girls throughout their first year of motherhood. While much has been said about the show's cast and the portrayal of teen pregnancy, at the heart of the show's ethos is a desire to show unconventional families, marriages, adoptions, and more, all through the eyes of mothers, fathers and their children.
Why You'll Like The Book: Robin Benway's moving YA novel, Far From The Tree, also depicts teen pregnancy, adoption, and the many ways to make a family, told through the eyes of three estranged siblings. Grace is an adopted only child who is considering putting her own baby up for adoption. Then she discovers that she has two siblings: Maya, who is dealing with her own adopted family's long-buried problems, and Joaquin, who has spent 17 years in the foster system. When the three unite to find their biological mother, their ideas of love and family are put to the test.