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    What to read next based on your favorite teen comedy.

    Brittany Allen

    April 8, 2024, 12:06pm

    Attention, nostalgic cinephiles–in honor of the recent anniversaries of certain teen movies dear to former freaks and/or geeks (Happy 35th, Heathers! And 25th, 10 Things…!), I’ve been revisiting the classics with an eye to locating their literary cousins.

    If you are still the kind of person inclined to hide under bleachers with a library book to escape group exercise, may I humbly present a reading list inspired by your favorite clique. Er, sorry–film.

    Heathers (1988) 

    If you love Heathers best, you may be a stone cold gamma girl with a Wino Forever tattoo. You may also have some Red Scare frenemies, and a canceled ex-boyfriend. But that’s because you value irreverence, and line-pushing. Also: language play, power clashing.

    Look to Mona Awad’s absurd and ruthless campus novel, Bunny. (Especially if your friends are being especially beautiful today.)

    Lady Bird (2017)

    You think you might be a genius, if only your mom would just get off your back and let you prove it to the nuns. (You should call her, by the way. Call your mom!) As a precocious thing with a huge ambition and family ties, look to Helen DeWitt’s inventive opus, The Last Samurai. This frankly perfect book is formally inventive and obsessive, just as you are.

    Dazed and Confused (1993) 

    You hate to admit it, but you loved high-school. Not least because you’ve found full-time employment (i.e., working for “the city”) to be a real drag. You’re up for an amble–maybe someday you’ll get around to finishing Ulysses–but it’s not about the destination. Never has been. You’re just tryna laugh, love, and keep L-I-V-I-N in the face of drudge.

    Paul Beatty’s outrageously funny (and 420-friendly) The Sellout will be a good companion for your travels. This brilliantly witty satire of the “post-racial” state ponders how the game is rigged. (A suspicion you’ve long held.)

    10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

    We’ll bracket the obvious, because you’ve already read all the Shakespeare. (You were, in fact, Perdita in your high school’s production of The Winter’s Tale.) Your Spotify top artists include Fiona Apple, Sleater-Kinney, Brittany Howard, or The Breeders. And sure, fine, you’ve keyed a car in anger–but it was a protest, and you were on the right side of history.

    Your love of bold femmes, the classics, and the short form should lead straight to Gwen Kirby’s wise and pithy story collection, Shit Cassandra SawAn ecstatic, hilarious book that celebrates unruly women (and certifies their rage), this one will find point of place riding shotgun in your Datsun.

    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) 

    Things just happen to you. Sort of like they just happen to Arthur Less, the eponymous, charming hero of Andrew Sean Greer’s comic novel, LessIf you’ve already followed our hapless hero down his first rabbit hole, check out the follow-up. (Spoiler: you stay lost.)

    Ghost World (2001)

    You could happily spend your whole life playing Waldorf and Statler with your best friend. But if ever heckling the planet gets old, you’d be up for a magical mystery tour. For a vicarious experience of same, pick up Jane Bowles’ “conspicuously strange” 1943 novel, Two Serious Ladies. This one follows two difficult besties on a bizarre tour of Panama.

    Cooley High (1975) 

    Another ode to ride-or-dies, this Chicago-set coming-of-age tale is “imbued with a youthful romanticism.” But it celebrates and elegizes that youth in equal measure. Novel-lovers: for its poignant, perceptive depictions of Black men and boys on similar precipices, look to Jamel Brinkley’s A Lucky Man. Bonus recc: poetry people and fans of this film should peep Nate Marshall’s Finnaan elegant collection that likewise “catalogs near misses and narrow escapes.

    Saved! (2004)

    Raised in the church but radicalized on Tumblr, you’re a keen student of your own transformations. Assuming you’ve already eaten up Patricia Lockwood’s memoir, Priestdaddy, which reckons with religion and should thrill on the basis of its dazzling sentences, I think you’ll love Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby. This novel also has a shimmering style, and explores identities in flux with equal amounts of cheek and depth.

    Metropolitan (1990)

    You’re a tricky, erudite m-fer. Obviously Salinger’s already left fingerprints; I see them, on your ironic pipe. You eschew all contemporary fiction, so Rebecca Makkai’s salacious campus novel, I Have Some Questions For You, is out–even though it reads you for filth. And similarly, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History hits a little too close to home. That or you’ve already worn your copy to bits.

    Perhaps you’re due for a modernist classic. Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. Like Lessing, you are interested in the line where the personal becomes political, and you may have been disappointed by socialism. Also, frankly? You wouldn’t hate to be seen carrying this doorstop around. Come for the expansive cultural and class analysis, stay for the brilliant arguments. They might remind you of certain living rooms on the deb circuit.

    Clueless (1995) 

    Even if it’s surface-deep, your self-knowledge is exemplary. You have a knack for lifestyle. You know just how you want your days to look and feel (bright, glamorous, wrapped in couture) just as you know how everyone around you ought to behave to achieve peak happiness. And frankly, you know best. That Val party was a mistake.

    It’s been hard for you to find an equal in literature. (Source material notwithstanding.) But Marlowe Granados’ Happy Hour, “an intoxicating novel of youth well spent,” features a fellow connoisseur of the finer things. Spend spring with Isa Epley, who’s just as assured and charming as you.

    Smithereens (1982)

    Is Susan Seidelman’s portrait of Wren, runaway flaneur and would-be punk goddess, technically a “teen comedy”? I’ll leave that to the real critics. If this one’s your favorite on the list, you are all about the novel–adjective, not noun. Yet you also miss the good old days, when St. Marks was a cesspool and hitchhiking was a reliable mode of transportation.

    Tricia Romano’s new history of the Village Voice, The Freaks Came Out to Writemay be right up your alley. A kaleidoscopic oral history of the iconic alt-weekly, this one will remind you of salad days on the street. It should also satisfy your magpie’s sensibility by pointing you to more cools-to-know.

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