9 Books About Coming of Age in the ’90s
I don’t know if you got the memo, but Millennials are old now. That’s right. Millennials no longer dominate youth culture, and you know what that means. This is when the major nostalgia kicks in. As Millennials face the precipice of middle age, we’re turning back to look at our childhoods. And the ’90s? A time before Instagram likes, iPhones, September 11th, and the COVID-19 pandemic? It kind of sounds nice, doesn’t it?
But the ’90s aren’t just a time period that’s appealing to aging millennials like me who were kids in the ’90s. If you’re a Gen Xer, you spent your young adult years partying it up in the ’90s. Boomers, you were probably doing grown people stuff, but I’m sure you still had fun. My point? No matter what your generation, we were all younger then. And for Gen Z, it’s fun to go back to a time you didn’t really get to experience the first time around.
It’s not that the ’90s were a simpler time. There were still political scandals and corrupt cops and racism and bigotry. But there were also a lot of part of the ’90s that are fun to look back on. The music, the flannel, My So-Called Life, Clueless, that period in time when MTV used to still play music videos. Some parts of the ’90s have returned — for instance, baggy jeans are back, and you can now buy Dunkaroos again. But some parts of the ’90s are gone for good, only to be revisited through memories and the written word. And so with that in mind, here are nine books about coming of age in the ’90s to help you revisit your youth.
In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen
This is a coming-of-age story that spans decades, but it all starts in December, 1992. Three different groups of teenagers are going to see the movie version of the Eons & Empires comic books at the theater. Each of the teens has a different background and is going to the movie for different reasons. Over the next few decades, these characters’ lives continue to interconnect in different and unexpected ways. In Some Other World, Maybe is an exploration of what it’s like growing up in contemporary America.
Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
Girls on Fire starts with a shocking incident. On Halloween in 1991, a popular high school basketball star walks into the woods and disappears. Three days later, he’s found dead, presumably by suicide. His death serves to further fuel rumors about Satanic worship in the small conservative town. Meanwhile, Hannah Dexter befriends one of the “bad influences” at her high school: Lacey Champlain, a girl who loves Nirvana and rocks Doc Martens. But friendship soon turns into obsession, and the girls’ rebellious behavior starts to get out of hand.
The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
It’s the end of senior year in L.A. in 1992, and Ashley Bennett’s life at her private high school has been sheltered and privileged. All she’s worried about is hanging out with her friends and tanning at the beach. But all of that changes when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King nearly to death. Suddenly, Ashley is very aware of the color of her skin, and so is everyone else. As much as Ashley would love to keep living her life as she had before, the world around her won’t let that happen. Protests are taking over the city, and a girl who she thought was her friend threatens to ruin her future with a heartless rumor.
Dryland by Sara Jaffe
Apparently 1992 is a big year for ’90s coming-of-age stories, because Dryland is also set in that year. Fifteen-year-old Julie Winter live in Portland, Oregon and is generally dissatisfied with her life. Her life is boring and she’s afraid to take risks. And no one in her family will talk about her brother, a swimmer who once dreamed of competing in the Olympics and now lives in Berlin. Swimming was always something her brother did and not something Julie thought of for herself, but then Alexis, the girl’s swim team captain, tries to recruit her. Could this be Julie’s chance to reconnect with her brother?
Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters
Triinu Hoffman is a teen growing up in a small town in Oregon in the 1990s. And with her dyed hair and dark clothing? Well, she doesn’t quite fit in. As Triinu begins exploring her sexuality, her feelings of alienation at her tight-laced school only worsen. And then Oregon’s Ballot Measure 9 goes into effect, and everything gets much, much more difficult for Triinu. But Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before is about more than coming to terms with one’s sexuality. It’s about coming to term’s with one’s self and what truly matters.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
We’ve talked about a bunch of books that take place in the early ’90s, but Let Me Hear A Rhyme is set in Brooklyn in 1998. A teen named named Steph has been killed, and no knows why it happened or who did it. But Steph’s two best friends — Quadir and Jarrell — refuse to let Steph’s dreams of having a music career die with him. With the help of Steph’s sister Jasmine, they hatch a plan to promote his music under a new rap name: The Architect. When his mixtape gains popularity and catches the attention of a big time music rep, the trio will be forced to face the truth of what happened to their friend.
About A Boy by Nick Hornby
Let’s face it. People come of age in their own time. For some, maturity comes when they’re younger. For others, it comes well into adulthood. And in Nick Hornby’s About A Boy — set in London in 1993 — we see a man and a young boy coming of age and learning about life together, at the same time. Will is 36 years old, but still acts like a teenager, partying and living his life as if no one else matters. And then he meets Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who loves Joni Mitchell and whose best friend is his mum. Basically, he’s the oldest 12-year-old you’ve ever met. Together, the two form an unlikely friendship. Will teaches Marcus how to relax and have fun, and Marcus helps Will grow up.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere is set in 1998 and follows the lives of adults and teens living in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland where everything is perfect. Seemingly, anyway. Enter Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl. Mia is an artist and a single mother, and she and her daughter rent a house from the Richardsons. Right away the four Richardson children feel drawn to Mia and Pearl — their unconventional way of life, the air of mystery, the way their lives don’t seem perfectly planned like every other person living in Shaker Heights. But when Mia Warren and mom Elena Richardson find themselves on opposite sides of a family’s custody battle, Elena becomes determined to discover the secrets of Mia’s past.
This is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey
Here’s another coming-of-age story set in 1998 — or is it? Jess Flynn is just your typical junior in high school, just trying to deal with her crush on her childhood best friend and her overbearing parents. But the older she gets, the more she begins to question her seemingly idyllic ’90s life in the town of Swickley. People keep getting sick with a mysterious flu. When Jess tries to ask questions about anything, people avoid answering or just end the conversation abruptly. And then one day, she sees a strange electronic device with an Apple logo fall out of her best friend’s backpack.
Can’t get enough books about the ’90s? Here are the ’90s teen book series you read but probably forgot about. If you’re looking for books that skew a bit older, here are 20 must-read novels from the 1990s. If you need help picking out your next ’90s-inspired read, try this quiz: Which YA Book for ’90s Kids Should You Read Next? Crank up your favorite ’90s playlist, and enjoy your trip down nostalgia lane!