The First “Grown-Up” Book I Read

When you’re a child who loves to read, there’s a lot of pride in being able to read what your parents are reading. It is a rite of passage to read a “grown-up” book. While I technically read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in late middle school, I didn’t really understand them until much later. It is a bit of a joke to consider them my first “grown-up” books, as I was just reading, not comprehending.

I’d have to go with another title as my very first “grown-up” read.

It’s Mary Higgin’s Clark’s Where Are the Children?

where are the children

It was a terrifying book for a girl my age. I can’t remember my exact age, but I was probably between sixth and seventh grade. Maybe that makes me a little too young to have been reading this book, but my mother always read Clark’s formulaic fiction, so I wanted to read it too.

I continued to reach for Clark’s books throughout my adolescence. One night, while I was in high school, I stayed up late reading one of these thriller novels. (They’re no Stephen King, but they were scary to me.) I also happened to have my own telephone in my bedroom. Just as I was getting drowsy and just as I read about the eery and unexpected ring of a telephone in the novel, my own phone rang. I jumped and couldn’t go to sleep for a while after that.

Just a few years ago, Clark visited our local library as a guest speaker.  The turnout for her appearance was so large, that it took place at one of the biggest high school auditoriums in the area, instead of in one of the library’s meeting rooms.  It was a treat to hear her speak about her craft and to recount how she had turned to writing as a young mother and widow.  Her ability to write ended up being a successful and lucrative career for her.  I enjoyed her novels as a young person, and although I don’t read them now, I respect her work and I look back with fondness on the memories I have of losing myself in her books.

What was your first “grown-up” novel?

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64 thoughts on “The First “Grown-Up” Book I Read

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  1. I remember my first book. It was one of Russian Classics (because I live in Russia) and I wasn’t able to understand all the scenes and dialogues. But I was deeply impressed of atmosphere. I read Dostoevsky. His literature slums and beggars are so much well-written.

  2. I loved Mary Higgins Clark too – because of the formulaic mystery format, I loved that I could always guess the ending.

    The first “adult” book I read was The Scarlet Letter. I was probably in 6th or 7th grade. I remember being so confused about what the “A” stood for. 🙂

  3. I’m pretty sure what I would consider my first adult book would have been Jodi Picoults My Sisters Keeper. I think I read it for the first time in about grade 8 and read it over and over until I realized she actually had other books. I still love her and read all of her new ones

  4. My first adult book was Summer of 42…
    I probably do not need to recount what it is about.
    It was a big influence, and it started my reading for pleasure, rather than reading because it was a school assignment.

  5. I was allowed to raid my parent’s bookshelves from a very young age so I honestly don’t remember when I read my first grown-up novel. I do remember my first Classic though – Pride & Prejudice at age 13. Mr Bennet remains my favourite fictional father to this day.

    1. He’s a pretty funny and great fictional father. I love his line about not speaking to her if she does marry Mr. Collins, when her mother says the opposite. Classic!

  6. I grew up long enough ago that YA wasn’t really a thing, so I started raiding my parents bookshelves when I grew out of Trixie Belden. I don’t specifically remember my first grown-up novel, but there is a good chance it was written by Agatha Christie. We’ll go with The Murder on the Orient Express, because it was one of her best!

    My daughter, who is 18, has recently discovered the joys of Christie and is working her way through my collection this summer before heading off to college!

    1. Christie’s work is the perfect introduction to “grown-up” books. It seems that many of us have a bent for mystery, and that mystery was the gateway to adult books. I wonder why that is?

  7. My cousin introduced me to Stephen King at 13 – Cujo and Pet Semetary. I think my mom wished it was a little tamer reading for me at that age. Thanks so much for sharing – Happy Day 🙂

  8. I was raised on Tolkien, so, are those grown up books? I read them and had them read to me from a very young age. If I go with my own first adult book choices, they were something by Stephen King, Anne Rice, and V.C. Andrews. I look back and know they were mostly for shock value and because my peers were sneak-reading them as well. As with so many adolescent things I think I just wanted to be different from the goody-goody stuff I was raised with. The power of ‘forbidden’ themes has such a strong draw.

    Interestingly, now I’m craving those childhood classics I was so eager to leave behind. A Wrinkle in Time, Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and I enjoy a lot of the new YA fiction also. When life gets tricky I guess I revert to childhood comforts. 🙂

  9. Emily, good question. These may not qualify as they were assigned in school but “Brave New World” and “1984” made an impression on me as a young teenager. Thanks for sharing your first one. BTG

    1. They totally count, and I love that you found them interesting and important despite the fact that they were assigned. Your teacher would be happy to know that.

  10. To Kill a Mockingbird in 6th grade. I remember distinctly my sister trying to explain rape to me. I think most of the story went right over my head. I read it in my 20s with such a deep reverence and appreciation for the book – a totally different experience.
    And I’ve just recently read The Scarlet Letter and Great Expectations again 25 years after my high school reading. And it was as if I had never read them before. I remembered virtually nothing! It makes me wonder what my high school age daughter will absorb of anything she reads for school.

    1. It is amazing how much we didn’t get out of these books as kids! I love that you have revisited these. So important to do. And I think To Kill a Mockingbird should be a required “grown-up” read for everybody. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  11. I remember reading A Stranger is Watching by Clark in which the murderer is a psychopath. I was literally (yes, I mean literally) sweating through the last chapter of the book. It was such a great book! I’ve never read Where Are The Children though. I bet it’s good.

  12. I read Gone With The Wind when I was about 12. I loved it, not only because it was about adults and big issues, but also because it was LONG. I remember being so amazed that I could stay engaged for so many pages; that seemed very adult to me. I followed it with The Fountainhead. I was blessed with a mother (a major reader) who allowed me to read all night long if I wanted to, but with the clear understanding that I still had to get to school on time the next day. I had a lot of sleepy afternoons, but it never slowed down my reading!

    1. Those are both impressive reads for a young person! I didn’t read GWTW until my early twenties, but I can see how I would’ve enjoyed it at a younger age as well. Isn’t it funny how important the page count was to us then? It did seem so impressive to read more and more pages!

  13. This story is freakishly similar to my own! This was also the first Mary Higgins Clark book I read around that same age and I also contented to read her books throughout my teen years. Again, I no longer read her work but certainly respect it. It must have been amazing to hear her speak, that’s one thing I cannot say we share. Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Wowza! That’s such a young age, but I bet you enjoyed the parts you did understand. I honestly hated both Little Women and Grapes of Wrath because I understood so very little. I think just a few years later would’ve been better. 🙂

  14. Interesting post! I remember my first “grown-up” read very well – it was in 4th grade. At Christmas that year, my teacher chose a book for each student based on a reading test we’d taken earlier that let her know our individual reading levels. She also had us fill out a sheet about our interests, and chose books she thought we’d enjoy. They were individually wrapped, and I remember mine being much larger than most of the others (I was at about a high school reading level then, I’ve always loved reading). Nerdy little 4th grade me was so, so proud of that. I can’t recall the title, but it followed a group of fictional people on the Titanic.

  15. I remember reading that book! I’m not sure which was my first grown-up novel, however I do remember these: The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon, Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann, Love Story by Erich Segal, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.

  16. My first “grown-up” novel was V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. I was 11 (I think), and remember reading it when my older sister wasn’t looking (it was her copy and she is ten years older than I am). I remember disliking it intensely, though it didn’t discourage me from reading some of these horribly disturbing family sagas later. I got some of those later books, no doubt, from my older sisters, too. I’ve never read any Mary Higgins Clark, but know she is a prolific and respected writer. I will have to look up her work one of these days.

    1. You know, I’ve never read Andrews, but a lot of people keep mentioning her books to me. I guess I should try her work. As to Clark, I think you might not enjoy her now. It is pretty formulaic stuff, but if you enjoy that, then give it a try.

      1. Oh I don’t mean to actually suggest Andrews. I find her work to be quite disturbing. They are controversial and sensational, and I don’t think they have much redeeming value.

  17. I think the first “grown-up” novel I read was Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, but since that often gets lumped in with the children’s books, we’ll say that my first “grown-up” book was To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it for the first time only a year ago and I LOVE that book! 🙂

      1. I guess that depends on what kinds of books you like. It was very good, but the story is told from the perspective of a science professor, so sometimes he digresses into long, involved descriptions of certain natural phenomena we witnessed while at sea. But if you like adventure novels, it might be worth putting up with the Professor’s wordiness. I wouldn’t say it was fast-paced, but it was still interesting.

  18. I was fascinated by the relationship of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan as a child, and soon I had read everything available to me as a 9-year-old. When I tried to check out Helen Keller’s autobiography from our bookmobile, the librarian told me that I would need my mother’s permission. The following week my mother took time off work to accompany me to the bookmobile to provide her approval. I had to renew the book several times before I finished it, but I remember how much I enjoyed reading about Keller’s life from her perspective. As I grew older, I realized that some of what I was reading was a bit white-washed. But to this day, I continue to admire the amazing relationship between Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan and all they helped each other accomplish.

    1. Wow! What a great story. I love that your mother was so supportive. And I love that you got your books from a bookmobile! I loved the bookmobile when I was young. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. 🙂

  19. I was drawn by both these books of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”. Ayan Rand novels were inspiring and intellectually challenging but as child it was difficult to fathom the philosophical system she called “Objectivism”…the fusion of fiction and philosophy was an interesting and intriguing area which had chosen for us to dwell and deliberate…

  20. My first “grown up” novel was a Stephen King classic, IT. It’s still one of my favorites to this day, and I haven’t stopped reading King since then. I was 12.

      1. The horror genre has been a mainstay in my life from a very young age. In fact, I watched my first horror movie (Night of the Living Dead, 1968) when I was just 5 years old. It was one of my mom’s favorite things: books and movies, especially. And since then, I’ve always had a fascination with the dark and macabre.

  21. This made make me think hard! I didn’t really tackle any adult books until I was 13-15, but my first being The Bell Jar (adult book, I think? I like that I’m having to consider what makes something ‘adult oriented.’) Anyway, while the size didn’t particularly instill fear into me, the first page did, and I felt both intimidated and enamored by her style, but at that age, I couldn’t full grasp everything, catching only the emotional surface. I ended up picking up the book later in life and have a whole new appreciation and understanding of it.

    1. The Bell Jar is definitely “grown-up”! I am a little jealous that your first book was so sophisticated. And good idea to revisit it. I think a lot of these classic novels we read as kids need a good reread.

      1. My family didn’t do a lot of reading growing up, but it was so interesting that we had so many books (a lot of classics) that were just collecting dust. As a kid, I perceived these as things ‘we didn’t touch by looked at,” which I realize was odd, but in a way it’s not, especially when you don’t see others in your family reading; yet still, I had an innate appreciation for them, even before reading them (reading only intensified my love, of course). Then I turned ‘teenager’, and rethought this, and wished I could say something like the book was calling to me, but… It was a fluke. Really. Paperback, bluish film cover, the title mostly grabbing my attention. Hardbacks seems too intimidating at the time (I was an odd child) But this really had me thinking–how did that book end up on that shelf, compared to all the Ernest/Holmes wedged on those tiny shelves? Anyway–I agree with you completely. Rereads are good and really should be practiced more!

        1. Ha! How DID it end up on the shelf? 🙂 Good question! Your description of the classics on your shelf reminded me of the small set of leather-bound classics my mother had. I ended up choosing from them just because they were there and seemed important. I read Candide and Pride and Prejudice that way.

  22. My first “grown up” book would have to be The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I would have been about 11 or 10. It opened my eyes and helped me with my confidence actually. Brilliant book completely recommend it 🙂

  23. I find it fun to look back at what I read when I was young. My first grown-up books were the Clan of the Cave Bear series, Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, and Roots. All from my mother’s shelf. It makes me wonder what my kids will read from my shelves someday. I am happy to say that it won’t be Clan of the Cave Bear. 🙂

    1. LOL! Yeah, those books have a lot of sex in them. I think I read the first one and that was enough for me. They are interesting though. I wonder what my kids will find on my shelves, too!

  24. This was such a fun post to read and think about! Honestly, I have no idea what my first “grown up” novel was. Anna Karenina might be a good candidate, because I read it a few years before I was ready for it, I think. I was always bored with the selection in school libraries & wandered all over the place in terms of reading level!

    1. That sounds like a proper first read! I love that you were always wandering for something more. I seemed to be content with the formulaic Nancy Drew for a while. It is almost embarrassing to think back on how long I relied on those!

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