by Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Genres: Young Adult
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty returns to her roots with this YA coming of age story set in a New Jersey mall.
The year is 1991. Scrunchies, mixtapes and 90210 are, like, totally fresh. Cassie Worthy is psyched to spend the summer after graduation working at the Parkway Center Mall. In six weeks, she and her boyfriend head off to college in NYC to fulfill The Plan: higher education and happily ever after.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans...
Set entirely in a classic “monument to consumerism,” the novel follows Cassie as she finds friendship, love, and ultimately herself, in the most unexpected of places. Megan McCafferty, beloved New York Times bestselling author of the Jessica Darling series, takes readers on an epic trip back in time to The Mall.
Come for the teased hair and Cabbage Patch Dolls, stay for the sweet coming-of-age story as a teen spends the summer before college working at the local mall, scouring the mall as part of a treasure hunt and navigating her derailed plans for love and her future.
Like the rest of her life, Cassie has her summer all figured out. It’s not exciting, but working at the mall food court with her boyfriend Troy (both voted “Most Likely to Succeed”) will earn her book money for when she goes to Barnard College at the end of August. A bout with mono is not in her plans, nor is discovering, once she’s recovered, that not only has she been fired from her job, but her boyfriend has dumped her for another mall worker. Unwilling to tell her perfect parents about either event, she sets out to find a new job. Unfortunately, the only place hiring is Bellarosa Boutique, home of New Jersey’s finest tube dresses, catsuits, and bustiers, owned by Cassie’s ex-best friend’s mom.
“Compact discs have superior sound quality,” Sam Goody was saying. “They absolutely will not be replaced by any new form of musical technology any time soon.”
“Yeah, yeah,” griped the customer. “That’s what they said about eight-tracks.”
It’s a bit off-putting to realize I’m now of the age where books about my childhood are, well, vintage. To be honest, though, in 1991 I was still in elementary school, but most of what the book describes was very familiar to me. I was vividly brought back to the local mall I hung out at with my friends when I was a teen, from the music store with its stacks of CDs to Spencer’s with its black lights to my favorite Waldenbooks. Even the never-ending argument among my friends over which mall entrance it was best to park near (never the food court, folks)! There’s a revenge makeover! Orange Julius! That weird store that sells stuff to a very specific subset and you have no idea how it actually survives! So, as a fun microcosm of teen life in the early 90s, it definitely hits the spot. It reminded me very much of a teen movie from that era – very predictable, with the standard teen movie plot, complete with the immediately recognizable love interest, misunderstood female characters, and he-was-never-right-for-you ex. It’s also very much a coming-of-age story in terms of Cassie making mistakes and learning from them. It’s light entertainment, and we never actually get too deep into the other characters besides Cassie and Drea.
“If you want to forget that loser, I can help you with that,” she said. “Just like you can help me with the treasure.”
“The treasure?” What was Drea even talking about?
“There’s a fortune hidden somewhere in the mall,” Drea said, “and I’m determined to find it.”
While there is a romance, it takes second stage to the relationship between Cassie and her ex-best friend Drea. Cassie looks down on Drea, who seems to be content with working at her mom’s boutique and serial dating anyone who catches her eye, while Cassie’s got her life all planned out and her sights set on more. Never mind how badly her summer plans have gone so far… The driving force behind most of their interactions is Drea’s quest to find a treasure supposedly hidden in the mall, which leads to them working together to find ways into various stores to find, I’m not joking, hidden Cabbage Patch Dolls with Supermarket Spree-style clues written on their birth certificates. The quest takes them from the basement teen party spot to a variety of stores to the mall’s roof, and along the way Cassie slowly realizes exactly how wrong she is about herself and Drea. There’s also some interesting moments contrasting Drea’s relationship with her mother and Cassie’s relationship with her mother, and a bit about female empowerment and friendship.
My big concern is of how much interest this would be to an actual teen reader today. This book is like wallowing in the mall fountain of nostalgia for me, but are teens today really that interested in 90s culture? Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 due to the nostalgia factor. It’s light, it’s entertaining, it’s a sweet confection of a summer read.