Is this a golden age of nostalgia or have adults been so broken by endless bad news, a pandemic, job insecurity, wage stagnation, racism, homophobia, and a million other social ills that looking backward is, at least, an opportunity to feel something less awful? It’s hard to say, exactly, but even as someone who doesn’t go hard for nostalgia, it’s been impossible not to enjoy reminiscing about pop culture of my own younger years. Digging into ’90s teen horror, for example, reminded me of how one of my teachers changed my reading life. It’s been fun to peek through old teen magazines and children’s magazines, thinking about how getting some of these in the mail or at the local newsstand would be a highlight of my week. Those small pleasures meant something then and are a reminder to look for that sort of joy now, decades later.
A couple of interesting facts I learned this year got me thinking about franchise and tie-in novels. First: R.L. Stine, under his Jovial Bob Stine name, published the Space Balls novelization in the ’80s, and Ann M. Martin, beloved Baby-Sitters Club author, was behind a Clue tie-in (yes, as in “flames on the side of my face,” the perfect ’80s film). Film novelizations for tweens and teens seem to have petered out over the last couple of decades; tie-in and franchise works, though, seem to be publishing steady as ever.
Novelizations, for those unfamiliar, are the film in book form. Think of it like a book being adapted into a movie, except in reverse: the film, which came first, is adapted into a novel. Usually, it’s as close to the same as possible, making concessions where something in the film wouldn’t translate to the book.
Tie-in and franchise books, though, can be so much broader. These take an idea and expand upon it, offering a way for fandom to flourish. Star Wars may be the easiest example: it’s had a major life since the initial trilogy, and even today, still has new and exciting tie-in and franchise industry behind it. These books don’t replicate the films but build upon them, with the brand Star Wars at the center of the story.
Though it seems tie-in and franchise books have been a mainstay of science fiction and fantasy, including tie-in/franchise books for Xena, Roswell, and X-Files — check out this history of the tie-in novel by Charlie Jane Anders from 2009! — they aren’t exclusive to those genres. In fact, it may have been the ’90s which allowed non-genre tie in and franchise novels to really hit their stride.
Another thing that made a lot of these franchise and tie-in novels stand out is their format. Most were in mass market paperback, which meant they were at an accessible price point for tweens and teens. This format has fallen out of favor in the last couple of decades, though some well-selling books (read: books with a lot of adult appeal) do sometimes get a mass market edition.
Let’s take a walk through some of the lesser-known, as well as beloved or completely forgotten, tie-in and franchise novels of the ’90s for tween and teen readers. Some of these surprised me while others were fondly recollected, and I won’t lie by saying I didn’t want to try to track some of these down to see how they held up (chances are they did not or at least, did not do so well).
It won’t be a surprise this is a very white list. Popular media has always been dominated by white voices and stories, and that plays out especially true with the books which encouraged franchise and tie-in works. We are, however, in a much more promising space today, as authors of color are taking beloved media and adding far more inclusivity to those stories — just take a gander at the Buffy universe books and, of course, Star Wars.
This is far from a complete list, but I’d love to hear other tie-in and franchise novels you remember from the ’90s. And don’t worry: it won’t be forever until I can pull together a list of fantastic film novelizations, too (including The Goonies and The Mask).
’90s Franchise and Tie-in Novels for Tweens and Teens
7th Heaven by Amanda Christie (series)
The clean-cut family whose stories played out like after school specials had their own series of novels. Each title followed one of the siblings in the family, Matt, Mary, Lucy, Simon, and Ruthie. Amanda Christie was the author behind the bulk of the books, though other authors periodically had a title, too.
The series ran from 1995 to 2004, with 20 books. It’s a little unclear whether these were direct novelizations — the covers say they are — or were tie-ins to the show, but the word “novelization” was used instead.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? by John Peel (series)
For people who loved scary stories, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, the Canadian show on Nickelodeon, was such a perfect way to get chills. I remember some of these stories vividly still, and they’re available to stream today (as of writing, on Paramount+). The show hit the air around the same time that Goosebumps was flourishing, so it’s not a surprise there was a great opportunity to further tap that market with a series of books.
The series ran a total of 23 books, primarily penned by Peel. They published between 1995 and 1999 and did a great job making it clear who owned the rights to the show (Nickelodeon did branding good). But you can certainly also see how they were angling this for the Goosebumps crowd!
Beverly Hills, 90210 by Mel Gilden (Series)
The Beverly Hills, 90210 show was just a touch before my time with tween and teen drama, so beyond knowing that I saw cool older kids watching it, I myself never did.
Of course, knowing the basics that it’s about wealthy high school kids in one of the most prestigious zip codes meant it was tailor-made for tie-in novels. Twelve books published in the series between 1992 and 1994. Gilden is named the author on all but one of the books, #4, credited to KT Smith.
Check the fashion on these covers.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder (series)
There are a lot of series books based on Buffy, including some still running today. But this was the first in the Buffyverse novel world, and the books in “Season One” all take place during the time of the show’s first season (spring 1997). The first “season” of tie-in novels had four titles total, and they were written by Golden and Holder, Arthur Bryan Cover, John Vornholt, and a solo title by Holder.
Angel gets his own tie-in series in later seasons of the tie-ins, as well.
California Dreams by Chelsea Brooks (series)
Alongside Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place was another California high school set TV series for teens called California Dreams. This one focused on a band and ran Saturday mornings, so it was less “mature,” than the other two. The show followed siblings who launched a band with two friends and it featured 40-some original songs…and for readers who picked up the series, there were some additional songs in there, too (in text, obviously).
All of the nine books, save for one, were penned by Brooks, and they were published between 1993 and 1994, the prime time of the sit-com.
Carmen Sandiego: You Are The Detective by John Peel (series)
Who else still has the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? theme song roll through their heads every single time they see the name Carmen Sandiego? This children’s television series about geography spawned not only a beloved computer game but also a series of books (and more contemporary series, too!).
The initial series from Peel were mysteries where readers were asked to find Carmen Sandiego through a series of clues. There were eight books in this series, all of which were penned by Peel, whose name will be familiar from other tie-in and franchise works of the era. The series published between 1991 and 1994.
Clarissa Explains It All by HB Gilmour
Rumors forever fly about a potential future Clarissa reboot, wherein she’s an adult navigating life in the big city. That’s the premise behind show creator Mitchell Kriegman’s book Things I Can’t Explain, published in 2018, but there’s been talks of a TV take as well. How it’d work is hard to say, given the pilot for Clarissa Now never saw the light of day.
Alas, fans of the show can enjoy the series streaming on Paramount+ or seek out what appears to be the one tie-in novel made for the show, Clarissa Explains it All: Boys.
Clueless by HB Gilmour (series)
The first book in this 21-book series, which ran from 1995 to 1999, follows the film pretty closely, but the remaining titles are all uniquely their own.
All of the trendy lingo and fashion is here, as is Cher, who you will never un-imagine as young Alicia Silverstone.
Gilmour wrote a number of the books in the series, though not all of them. Other author included Jennifer Baker, Randi Reisfeld, and Carla Jablonski. Note that the 20th book in the series features a music festival named Gwyneth Fair which is, indeed, a take on a similar all-female festival of the same era. Clever.
Full House by Devra Newberger Speregen (series)
You either were a Full House fan or you weren’t, and you either had your childhood ruined by rumors of Alanis Morrisette’s “You Outta Know” being about Uncle Joey or you didn’t.
The Full House TV series inspired numerous tie-in and franchise novels over the years, including one that focused on Stephanie (32 books from 1995 to 1999); Michelle (authored by a few different people, 1995–2001, 40 books); Club Stephanie (rotating authors, 1997–2001, 15 books that are a bit more “mature” than the original Stephanie titles); or Full House: Sisters (1998–2001, 14 books with various authors that focused primarily on the relationship between Stephanie and Michelle). DJ didn’t have her own series, though she did make an appearance in Full House: DJ/Stephanie Flip-Over Book published as a solo title in 1994.
I was 100% in the demographic for the Stephanie series growing up, so I absolutely devoured them.
A few years after the show, when Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen were building their own separate empire of films, there was also a series of tie-in novels called The Mary Kate and Ashley Mysteries.
Moesha by Stefanie Scott (series)
Being 15 is HARD, especially when your parents tell you that dating is out of the question for another year. That’s the premise which launches the Moesha book series, tie-ins from the super successful television show that you can now stream.
Scott wrote six books in the series between 1996 and 1997. Again: these book covers deserve respect for their commitment to fashion of the era. And honestly? I think this all might be back in style.
Mystery Files of Shelby Woo by Alan Gordon (series)
There are numerous authors attached to this series, based on the Nickelodeon show from the mid-to-late ’90s, including a number who also had authorship on other tie-in and franchise titles.
The series spans 15 books, which all published between 1997 and 1999. Each follows beloved 16-year-old detective Shelby Woo as she works to solve another mystery, whether it’s art theft, robbery, or more. It involved numerous authors.
Don’t the covers give off a very Ghostwriter vibe? I’m also living for that very 1997 hip computer in the top corner. Imagine if Shelby had a laptop!
Party of Five by Elizabeth Winfrey
Party of Five lasted for a good portion of the ’90s, starting in 1995 and ending in 2000. The series, which followed high schoolers and their families, spawned a number of tie-in and franchise novels which followed the individual characters of the show.
I didn’t watch this growing up, so being unfamiliar with who is who and what their back story might be, it’s very likely I’ll miss a character or two who got a series. “Claudia” ran for eight books between 1997 and 1999, all of which were written by Winfrey. Megan Stine wrote “Bailey” books, from the perspective of Bailey in his first year at college. Those titles ran six books between 1997 and 1998. There was even a faux journal “by” Bailey as part of this series. Julia had two books written from her perspective by two different authors, while Sarah had a single book penned by Rosalind Noonan.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Salem’s Tails by Mark Dubowski (series)
We could talk about how Melissa Joan Hart had another successful television series spun into some novels. But I think it’s more interesting to highlight that a secondary character from Sabrina: The Teenage Witch had his own tie-in novels: Salem.
Where stories told from the perspective of animals isn’t exactly rare in children’s books, it’s more rare in books for tweens and teens (I know about Erin Hunter). For those familiar with the show, though, the reason Salem’s stories are compelling is that Salem isn’t an “ordinary” familiar for Sabrina. He’s instead an ancient warlock who was stripped of his powers and sentenced to 100 years as a cat.
In Salem’s Tails, penned by a number of authors, readers get to enjoy 14 volumes, all published between 1998 and 2000.
Saved by the Bell by Beth Cruise (series)
Go back to the OG Bayside with these novels from the high schoolers who you’ve been able to see be reimagined for this generation (or, well, the generation who grew up with them and want to wax nostalgic).
All 24 books in this series were written by Cruise and published between 1992 and 1995.
But this wasn’t the only series that was part of the Saved By The Bell franchise. “The College Years” series, written by Cruise, followed the original cast as they went off to college and ran for four books in 1994. “The New Class” published in 1994, too, with rotating authors and followed new students at Bayside. The 11 books in that series ran between 1994 and 1996.
Sister Sister by Janet Quin-Harkin
Whereas Full House had twins playing one role, Sister Sister leaned into twindom hard and had the girls playing identical sisters separated at birth but reunited in their teens. It was part of the big lineup of teen shows I know I consumed feverishly growing up, and I never realized there was a whole book series as well.
The Sister Sister series ran eight books from 1996 to 1997. The author name is a pseudonym for author Rhys Bowen, whose work might be familiar to you if you like adult mysteries.
In 2015, Tia and Tamara Mowry, who’ve each enjoyed pretty good careers following the show’s end, published a series of books together called “Twintuition.” It wasn’t tied into the show at all, but it’s neat to see how they took their co-popularity to channeled it into a new series for new readers (who likely are familiar with them from their own youth!).
A series you’ll note is missing but deserves at least a mention is the “Charmed” series, based on the witchy CW show. Since the series hit in 1998, the novels didn’t follow until then and ran through the early 00s. They’ve seen a few rebirths, too, including comic books, over the course of the last 20 or so years. The books don’t have continuity and aren’t considered canonical, but again: absolutely worth a mention since they fit the mold and likely will engage some nostalgic feelings for old but beloved witches.
So, what were you reading while watching?