Does anyone else remember the young adult series From the Files of Madison Finn? Surely I can’t be the only one who, as an awkward and bookish middle-schooler, devoured them. The series follows twelve-year-old Madison Finn. She lives in upstate New York. Her parents are divorced. Her favorite color is orange. She loves her pug. She has two great best friends but is not popular. The jock will never notice her, etc. There is absolutely nothing special about her, which is exactly what I loved about these books. When all my friends were dreaming of Hogwarts (disappointed that they had not received their acceptance letters), I was obsessed with the minutiae of Madison Finn’s very boring life. (I believe it helped curb my disappointment for the way life really is.)
In twenty-two books (plus three “super editions,” which are basically bigger books but are arguably not canon), Laura Dower just keeps churning out the banality of pre-adolescent life. There are Halloween dances and summer babysitting escapades and tween love triangles and even a trip to New York City in which Madison gets very excited that there’s an avenue that shares her name. In one book, I specifically remember a full chapter on her packing for her father’s upcoming wedding. I mean, we got the actual packing list she made for herself in the text. I read about her deciding not to bring one sweater over another with bated breath. (Sorry, Karl Ove Knausgaard, you were certainly not the first writer in my reading life to make such mundanity weirdly hypnotic?!) But my real question is: why? Why was this so captivating as a young adult series? A lot of my friends asked me this while we were growing up and, after years of ruminating on it, here’s what I’ve got: I think it’s because there are a lot of popular young adult books that hinge on there being a kind of magic in the world, that tell the stories of extraordinary individuals who were chosen in some way. And if you didn’t feel like your life looked that way—if you admired Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but didn’t feel that you could see yourself in them—then what? I appreciated the realism of this series—the way Madison Finn felt embarrassed or sad or panicked about stupid things the way I felt embarrassed or sad or panicked about stupid things.
The only sort of notable thing I’ll mention about Madison Finn is that she had a laptop that she carried everywhere. She kept a blog of all the trials and tribulations of her life, from boys to friend drama—Carrie Bradshaw-style. From the Files of Madison Finn was first published in 2001, so the idea of a laptop—of a young girl knowing HTML—was kind of revolutionary in its own small way. Was she the bold, feminist heroine of my dreams? No. Was she relatable and formative to my future life and career? Absolutely. /blog