Published by Wednesday Books on July 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 320 •Format: E-ARC •Source: NetGalley
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.
90s historical fiction is something I didn’t know I needed but now can’t believe I’ve been living without! (Also, the fact that the 90s is considered historical fiction makes me feel ~old~). I absolutely flew through The Mall, which follows recent high school graduate Cassie as she navigates her last summer before college navigating retail life at The Mall. Which should have been a quick summer of serving up cookies and daydream of NYC, she finds her life turned totally upside-down with mall shenanigans, featuring everything from underground parties to Cabbage Patch scavenger hunts.
In many ways The Mall is irreverent fun, with some truly hilarious characters to overzealous stereotypes (from bros working at the arcade and skate shops to the mother and daughter owned boutique serving up the pinnacle of Jersey mall fashion). But in other ways I found it to be a legitimate coming of age story for Cassie as she reckons with becoming her own person and exploring her feminist ideals and beliefs that she’s repressed for so long due to her bland, dentist parents and/or her subtly controlling boyfriend. I adored seeing her rekindle her friendship with her total 90s cliché of an ex-best friend Drea (her honking laugh was sending me) and their adventures together after (and sometimes during) work hours after finding an unlikely quest in the mall’s basement. As someone who worked in a mall for most of my high school and college years, there’s nothing quite like flexing your new found freedom and adult abilities (like driving) than taking yourself to and from your retail job and developing friendships that form between stock room breaks and running clothing from the fitting room back to the floor.
Obviously I have to talk about the 90s nostalgia I experienced while reading this book. I was a kid rather than a teen in the 90s, so my experience was obviously different than that of Cassie’s and her peers, but there’s still so much that made me giddy. I was a devoted Cabbage Patch parent and owner of many a cassette tape (in fact, I can clearly remember at 6 or 7 years old my mom taking me to the music store in our mall and picking out my first cassette that I bought with “my” money, the first Spice Girls album). I loved that Dreas’ hair was big but her attitude and dreams were bigger. I loved seeing Cassie’s starry eyed encounter with a real life Mac computer. I laughed when I saw the alternative to blackmail was a Polaroid picture rather than someone texting proof of “receipts.” But most of all I loved that the classic teen story was still the same as any one set in modern times, and I easily could have imagined the story taking place in a contemporary setting because the characters’ stories and arcs were so relatable- still- to those of teens today.
The Mall was a quick read for me, and at the time of reading it was the perfect pace to pick me out of a little bit of a reading slump. Upon further reflection, however, I do think the story could have benefited from a bit more backstory and closure, because there were so many interesting side characters. I wanted more context as to Cassie’s parents’ marriage, wanted to get to know “Sam Goody” better, wanted to see Drea pursue her fashion dreams. I want a whole second book on Zoe, the mysterious manager of the cookie shop in the food court with a witchy vibe, eerie appearances, and hints at a surprisingly tragic history. I really think there’s a whole world that could be layered onto this novel that I would love to explore!
Overall: The Mall is a story that is rooted in the teenage retail summer experience, serving up a ton of nostalgia for those who were around in the 90s and prioritizing friendship vibes with just a light smattering of romance. It’s a fun, light mystery for those who want a zany yet heartwarming adventure. I can’t wait to see what other 90s historical fiction books the YA genre holds!
*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!*