In school, my biggest comfort were books. Madeleine L’Engle insists, “A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living ﬁre to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” If I sauntered the halls of Riverdale High, here’s the first round of titles I’d slip in the series regulars’ book bags. While you wait for Season 3, squeeze in some reading and revisit these episodes.
Courtesy warning: spoilers follow.
Archie Andrews: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
The boy of the infamous love triangle, I, a young reader of the digest, always believed that Archie and Betty Cooper end up together. Even though the hit show is loosely based on the characters, I sense a love story planted in the second episode. While walking Veronica home, Archie tells her about how he kissed Betty and asked her to marry him after passing the second grade, because she tutored him every day so they could remain classmates. Betty asked him to propose again when they were 18 for an acceptance. Veronica assures Archie, “I don’t think your story with Betty is over.” Does this missed connection (sorry, Bughead and Varchie shippers) hearken to another well-known love triangle: Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino?
Betty Cooper: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
With the healthy dose of Nancy Drew references, there’s no choice but a mystery here. Ng has a bewitching way of giving you the answer up front and unexpectedly unrolling the inner lives and pasts of characters page after page. Her novels have layers, and sleuthing Betty loves unearthing facts to reveal truths. After all, she’s instrumental in revealing Jason Blossom’s killer, the Sugarman, and the Black Hood. With a first sentence like “Lydia is dead,” how could Betty put this debut down?
Veronica Lodge: Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
One of my favorite quotes from this family saga set in the Virgin Islands reminds me of Veronica’s relationship with her parents, Hiram and Hermione Lodge: “The idea that people who guarded you could also be the people that you needed guarding from was nothing anyone should have to learn.” And we’re watching Veronica learn it.
Jughead Jones: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
There are obvious choices for Jughead. The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the wallflower, and he’s compared to Holden Caulfield in the show, but let’s put another formative book in his hands. Inspiring innumerable physical and spiritual journeys, Wild is the perfect paperback for his back pocket: someone who chooses homelessness over living with his spiraling father, someone who copes with his mother and sister’s absences every day.
Kevin Keller: We the Animals by Justin Torres
I can’t stop thinking of Kevin’s eyes at the hospital in “Chapter Sixteen: The Watcher in the Woods” when Moose Mason tells him about his romantic uncertainty for Midge Klump. In turn, Kevin tells Moose about his out-of-character, “dangerous” decision of cruising the forest, where the Black Hood had most recently struck. Moose points out their lack of options, suggesting that “10 minutes” of a possible connection may be worth risks. The same connection Kevin is searching for when Betty confronts him, and he points out her privilege of love triangles and “first kisses.” I want to give Kevin something he can connect with: boys finding their own ways in a rural setting. And yet, I want to hand him a book that does what the best books do: blow open our worlds and reshape our truths. In a novel that lacks traditional form and plot, we find beauty in Torres’s sentences. Every. Single. Startling. Sentence.
Cheryl Blossom: Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Despite Cheryl’s scathing, speedy comebacks and hard-to-scale walls, Toni Topaz takes interest. In “Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Hills Have Eyes,” Penelope Blossom tells Cheryl she has “never known love” and calls her an “emotional anorexic.” Later, she confides in Toni. About her first love, Heather, Cheryl says: “I loved someone who loved me, and my mother destroyed it.”
Dennis-Benn’s multiple-perspective bildungsroman features Margot and Verdene’s romance. Because of less-than-friendly views of the LGBTQ community in Jamaica, they keep their relationship secret. Something Cheryl can connect with, her mother calls her “deviant,” threatens to out her to the town behind her back, and admits her into a clandestine gay conversion therapy program ran by the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. A country is not a household. Nonetheless, I want to hug Cheryl, Toni, Margot, and Verdene, and tell anyone who has ever felt this way that love is love.
Josie McCoy: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Riverdale’s hometown celebrity Josie works tirelessly for a career in music. In “Chapter Twenty: Tales from the Darkside,” Josie, stuck between a rogue opportunity and the Pussycats, seeks her dream. This drive reminds me of Daniel Bae’s love of poetry and Natasha Kingsley’s love of science, particularly dark matter, and the ways they honor themselves and each other by living the lives they want. (Goodness, I miss Valerie Brown and Melody Valentine, and I cannot wait for May 17, 2019.)
Reggie Mantle: Muscular Music by Terrance Hayes
In the penultimate episode of the second season, “Chapter Thirty-Four: Judgment Night,” we see a different side to Reggie. Usually sexist and engaged in some performance of masculinity like arm wrestling or football, Reggie, hunted by the Serpents because they believe he shot Fangs Fogarty, crouches behind a dumpster and calls Hiram for help. After he refuses him, Reggie slumps alone at Pop’s, so deflated Pop Tate enlists Archie’s big heart. Recently profiled in Poets & Writers by Hanif Abdurraqib, I think Terrance Hayes, an Academic All-American basketball star at Coker College and prolific poet, might speak to this Reggie.
Toni Topaz: Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson
Before Choni, some sexual tension existed between two Southside Serpents. Remember when Jughead and Toni teamed up to crack the Black Hood’s code? She approaches him, citing her obsession with serial killers. A self-proclaimed “true-crime junkie,” Jughead admits to a jealous Betty that Toni “does have an affinity for the darker side of things.” For Toni, a poetry collection with journal excerpts, in which Nelson reckons with the death of her aunt, the third rape-murder in a series of seven in late-sixties Michigan.
The third season of Riverdale premieres Wednesday, October 10, at 8 pm on The CW.