Last weekend, when my 12-year-old daughter needed new clothes and we had exhausted all the usual haunts, the mall was sending out beacons of tweendom we couldn’t resist. We found a lot of the usual within the stores, but what most caught my attention was a glaring resurgence of all things 80s and 90s: off-the-shoulder “Flashdance” shirts, flat-heeled suede slouch boots, retro-neon-spandex everything, denim jackets, grunge jeans, color-block prints, garish prints, baby-doll dresses; honestly, at times I was both giddy and nauseous. These last few years have revealed other throwback signs as well found in music (synthesizers, anyone?), movies (Super 8), TV shows (I know quite a few teens who religiously watch My Little Pony), and even books. I always figured if I wanted nostalgia I could dust off a copy of Blume’s classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but after reading a couple of new titles off the shelf this summer I realized I needed to look no further to reminisce:
We begin in the mid 80s with high-schooler Ari Mitchel, a quiet girl who lives an unassuming “good-girl” life, overlooked by many — especially when compared to best friend Summer. Ari’s mom worries that she will end up like her sister (a teen mom with a lackluster life), so Ari is sent away from her local high school to attend a private school to study and focus on her future. At her new school Ari dives into new friendships and falls head-over-heels for Blake. Ari becomes so enmeshed in her love for Blake that she begins losing her own self, and their eventual break-up, with betrayal from best-friend Summer, sends Ari on a downward spiral. 80s lovers will appreciate references to Duran Duran and Madonna, Converse, Tom Selleck, and Miami Vice.
It’s the early 90s and Amanda, aka “Zero,” has recently graduated from high school. We first meet Zero as she chalks a somber scene onto her Arizona driveway, and we learn that she was recently accepted to the art school of her choice; unfortunately, her “technical artistic skills” aren’t developed enough yet to receive the scholarship she needs to actually attend. Adrift from her best (and only) friend, and feeling trapped at home by parents who fight with each other every waking minute, Zero plans to drown her summer sorrows by taking in the local punk scene at nightly shows around town. On her first night Zero locks eyes with the drummer of some new local talent, and after his show she braves up enough to sit next to him to grab a soda and fumble an introduction. The book quickly reveals a simple plot but deep characters who each struggle to navigate the distinction between high school and real life, past and new loves, and “want” versus “should.” This book is filled with 90s punk nostalgia: Monkey Boots, quirky band shirts, slam dancing, skater boy-cuts, and short lines from obscure bands that will make older readers want to dig through the garage to find old cassette tapes and younger readers curious for more.
— Dena Little, currently reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin