Author: Megan McCafferty
Publication date: July 28, 2020
Genre: young adult, (recent) historical fiction
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
The Mall is a book that, I kid you not, made me nostalgic for a time period I didn’t even live through. I was born in the mid-90’s, and this book takes place in ’91, but this fun-filled romp through teenage drama and self-discovery resonated with truths that are still relevant today, while seasoning them with a distinct 90s flair that I couldn’t help enjoying. Was it cheesy? Sure. But it was the good kind of cheesy, the sort of fluffy read that is perfect for a summer day.
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.
In my opinion, the publisher’s summary really doesn’t do the plot justice, so let’s start with my brief take on it. Also, I’ve interspersed this review with a couple quotes from the book that I really liked; hopefully they aren’t too distracting. Note that they have not been checked against a final version of the book, so they are subject to change.
But I digress!
After six months of isolation due to a nasty case of mono, in which she missed, among other things, prom and graduation, Cassie Worthy is more than ready to ace this summer: spending time with her boyfriend, Troy, saving some money, and then moving to NYC for college, getting out of the suburbs and into her dream life. But upon her return, Cassie’s world is upended: Troy has started dating someone else, she can no longer work her intended job with him at America’s Best Cookie, and her new job is pretty much the last place she wants to be. Yet all is not lost–with the help of a possible new romance, an unexpected friendship, and a secret treasure hunt through the depths of the mall, maybe this can still be the best summer ever.
This capitalist mecca wasn’t the biggest or the best or the newest our state had to offer, but it was the closest. For that reason alone, the mall was the center of the universe for bored hordes of suburban teens with limited spending money and infinite time to waste.– The Mall (Megan McCafferty)
This was a highly enjoyable read for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one to me was Cassie’s character. She’s smart (like, very nerdy and book-smart; she would have been valedictorian, were it not for that case of mono), she’s an independent thinker who wears cool band tees and talks about feminism (granted, it’s 90s feminism, so some of her views could still use some work, but she does try to fight back!), and she is just the right combination of stubbornly confident and an anxious disaster. She walks with her head held high but still stumbles realistically while trying to get her life back on track. In other words, she is a relatable protagonist whose goals and personality would not feel out of place even today. And the side characters–including a gorgeous fashionista, a boy who sells CDs and reads riot grrrl magazines, and a creepy-but-sorta-cool goth girl–throw a variety of lights on Cassie’s facade, illuminating multiple sides of her personality all at once.
My irrational fear of disappointing authority figures was a key to my academic success.– The Mall (Megan McCafferty) [can I just point out how freaking relatable this quote was? seriously, I feel almost attacked by its relevance to my life.]
Megan McCafferty’s writing style here has a very teenage voice, and it works well in the context of the book. Cassie’s commentary oozes dry sarcasm (for example, when describing a coworker, she remarks, “If sprinting in stilettos were an Olympic sport, Drea Bellarosa would win all the gold medals that she could later turn into earrings and a matching statement necklace“), but the humor is also scaled back and augmented by angst when harder emotions need to be discussed. Cassie is the sort of teen who feels everything very deeply and very personally, and McCafferty makes sure that part of her personality is kept abundantly clear. Once in a while, the narration veers a little too far to the childish side (a weirdly lengthy passage making a dick joke about a store that sells wood–yeah, yeah–comes to mind), but for the most part, the story’s voice is clear and resonant.
The Greeks cared so much about the concept of fate that they put not one, not two, but three sister bosses in charge of carrying it out for all humankind. I disagreed with the Greeks. I didn’t believe in destiny.– The Mall (Megan McCafferty)
Of course, a character is only as good as their overall arc is, and in this respect, the book simultaneously succeeds and flounders. On the one hand, the way Cassie transforms over the course of the book from a straight-laced, straight-A student obsessed with The Plan to a freer, more well-rounded individual is a gratifying process to watch. She never becomes perfect, but she leans into her less-conventional strengths and interests. The people she meets at the mall open her eyes to other possible paths in life–dropping out of elite schools, delaying college plans, or simply enjoying where you are instead of constantly striving to leave–and she, in turn, learns a lot about rolling with the punches and taking life for what it’s worth. Yes, it is a tried-and-true, possibly-overdone theme, but who doesn’t love a coming-of-age story?
An article of clothing transformed me into the best possible version of myself. Adopting a new look didn’t make me superficial or stupid. On the contrary, I felt empowered and emboldened– The Mall (Megan McCafferty)
On the other hand, though, the plot that gets her to that point is sometimes flimsy. The plot becomes an odd mashup of Cassie trying to solve a secret scavenger hunt of urban legend (which was one of my favorite elements of the book; I won’t spoil anything, but there are Cabbage Patch Dolls involved), her boy drama, and her general anxiety about who she is and what she will be doing in the fall. Separately, each element works, but the juxtaposition of the fun of the treasure hunt and the humorous/ridiculous/sometimes-actually-quite-heartfelt teenage melodrama left something to be desired. In particular, the ending felt a little too neat, a little too abrupt (and yet too slow?), and a lot too corny when compared to the rest of the book. That, combined with some irregular pacing, dragged this book down for me in terms of subjective experience.
As a whole, though, this book was a heck of a lot of fun. Even when it turned too saccharine or too campy for my preference, I still found myself enjoying this quick, sweet, heartfelt read. If you’re looking for something light and fun in these mid-late summer days, this is a great option to pick up.
(P.S. I didn’t really have anywhere that this fit in logically, but this seems like a YA book that is written not just for teens, but also for adults. I think a lot of the adult YA readers, who are now in their 30s or 40s, will read this book with fond nostalgia!)
TRIGGER/CONTENT WARNING: non-graphic reference to rape/sexual assault
About the Author
Megan McCafferty writes fiction for tweens, teens and teens-at-heart of all ages. The author of several novels, she’s best known for Sloppy Firsts and several more books in the New York Times bestselling Jessica Darling series. Described in her first review as “Judy Blume meets Dorothy Parker” (Wall Street Journal), she’s been trying to live up to that high standard ever since.
You can follow her on Twitter at @meganmccaferty.
If you’re feeling inclined to pick up a copy of the book, you can find all sorts of purchase options HERE. You can also add it to your shelf on Goodreads!
That’s all for now, folks!
Until next time,
Thank you to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and for providing me with an eARC of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Being a part of the tour has not influenced my review/rating in any way.