Lizzie Skurnick Books brings back YA classics

Correction: An earlier version of the article mischaracterized the plot of one of the imprint’s upcoming novels. In “Happy Endings Are All Alike,” by Sandra Scoppettone, a young woman is raped by a classmate, but the crime is not an example of date rape. This version has been corrected.

September 24, 2013

It turns out they do make them like they used to. A brand-new line of books is rolling out this month — but its first title was originally published more than 50 years ago.

Lizzie Skurnick Books, a division of Ig Publishing, is dedicated to rescuing out-of-print titles by much-loved young adult authors such as Lois Duncan, M.E. Kerr and Ellen Conford. But don’t call this a nostalgia imprint.

“People seem to think I’m bringing books back out of nostalgia,” says editor Lizzie Skurnick, the author of “Shelf Discovery,” a book celebrating classic YA literature. “It’s not nostalgia at all. They’re great books. They hold up on rereading.”

The audience this time around isn’t necessarily teenagers, but rather women in their 30s and 40s who grew up reading the books, says Robert Lasner, editor in chief of Ig, a small, independent press in Brooklyn. Lasner, who admits he never read any of the books growing up, approached Skurnick about starting the imprint, figuring that if people still loved the books, there would be an audience.

Duncan’s novel “Debutante Hill,” the first title in the series, hit stores this month. Titles to be released later this year include Conford’s “To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie” and MacArthur fellow Ernest J. Gaines’s “A Long Day in November.”

Publishers originally thought of these books as perishable, says Lasner, especially the ones written by women. “YA was considered disposable. People consider them dated. But they still address the same issues and the same social issues that teens go through.” For example, an early YA book dealing with rape and featuring a lesbian young adult romance — “Happy Endings Are All Alike,” by Sandra Scoppettone — will be out in January, according to Ig publisher Elizabeth Clementson.

While 1980s supernatural titles such as “The Girl With the Silver Eyes” have been reissued by other publishers to capitalize on the craze for all things paranormal, “the books that have been really neglected are the ones that deal with social issues,” Clementson says. “Those social issues are still very relevant.”

So far, Lizzie Skurnick Books has acquired the rights for 65 titles — enough for five years. The books will be in stores, but Ig has also created a subscription service to accommodate those who want all the titles in the line.

Skurnick explains, “These are the books about which people say, ‘I was going to buy this book for my daughter, but then I kept it.’ ” She says she would like to create an entire library so that instead of choosing one book per author, in some cases she may offer as many as four or five. “We want them all in print,” Skurnick says.

The mission of Lizzie Skurnick Books is similar to other niche presses, such as Brooklyn-basedSingularity, which brings back out-of-print science fiction. But instead of reissuing the titles in e-book form only, as Singularity does, Skurnick is re-creating books, complete with new cover art that captures the era.

A teenage Duncan is actually featured on the new edition of her “Debutante Hill.” The cover is a picture taken by her father, photographer Joseph Janney Steinmetz, featuring a group of teens in cars. Duncan, in a pink sweater, is in the lower left corner, sitting in the blue Jeep she owned as a girl.

“We wanted to update the books for modern, yet have a classic look,” Lasner says. “We wanted to put our own look and feel onto the books.”

That does not include the insides, however. The characters will not suddenly be sporting iPhones and Instagramming selfies. Skurnick said that, so far, she’s changed only one thing: A character who modern audiences would assume is gay — but whose author did not intend him to be — now kisses the girl. (Originally, the kiss wouldn’t have made it through a magazine’s standards and practices, Skurnick said.)

While Skurnick says she believes these books will find a new audience, she isn’t sure how many of the readers will be teens.

“They don’t really like these books,” she admits. “They don’t even like ‘The Witch of Blackbird Pond’ or ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins.’ We had our own special books. They have their own special books.”

Zipp frequently reviews books for the Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post.

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