10 Books To Remind You Why Y2K is Back

Nostalgia for the early aughts revisits overlooked aspects of the decade

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Paparazzi photos of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are proliferating in the tabloids. Teenagers are flooding stores to buy track suits, crop tops and low rise jeans. People are looking forward to Lindsay Lohan’s new acting gig. The Sopranos, Friends, He’s All That, The L Word, The Proud Family, Sex and the City, and Avatar the Last Airbender have all been rebooted. It’s hard to believe it’s 2021 and not 2002.

Time is cyclical, and this year is becoming eerily reminiscent of the late nineties and early aughts, now lovingly called “Y2K aesthetics” by the youth.

However, some things have changed in the last 20 years. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ representation is about as high as it’s ever been. Diversity in children’s media, both books and television, continues to grow each year. Stories that didn’t have the opportunity to be told around the turn of the century are being retroactively told now. For all of the disastrous trends—looking at you concealer lipstick and whale tails—that we tried to leave behind, these contemporary releases show us the worlds we shouldn’t have overlooked.

The Idiot by Elif Bautman

Taking its title from the Dostoevsky novel, this Pulitzer Prize finalist follows Selin, a  Turkish-American Harvard freshman, who is bookish and naive. Upon starting college she is thrust into a world of emails, new class subjects, and a Hungarian mathematics major, Ivan. The charm of this book isn’t in a mystical world or outlandish plot, but instead that Selin is so realistically a young person figuring it out. 

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya Elizabeth Weil

In 1994, Clemantine was an average child in Rwanda—until the genocide. Over the next 100 days, over half a million people died, and millions more were displaced, including Clemantine and her older sister Claire. After spending six years in seven different countries, the sisters are granted asylum in America, where they are forced to adjust to a vastly different culture. This memoir is raw, tragic and powerful, and it opens with the tear jerking tale of her reunion with her parents on The Oprah Show.

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Set primarily in the 90’s in New York City, Zhang gives voice to a generation of daughters of Chinese immigrants. We Love You Crispina, the opening story, sets the tone for the rest: dark, humorous, vulgar, and filled with family. In it a young girl deals with moving from roach infested apartments to dilapidated hotels as her family struggles to save. In The Evolution of my Brother, a sister torments her brother, only to be horrified as he begins to inflict pain on himself. This collection is bittersweet and littered with pop culture icons.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This web of mothers is set in the late 90’s in an upscale Cleveland suburb. Elena Richardson should be a suburban dream, but secretly she’s unhappy in her role. When Mia Warren, a single mother and artist, moves to Elena’s quaint town, their paths immediately cross. Their younger daughters find solace in the others’ mom. Elena’s daughter, an alternative outcast, loves Mia’s creativity, and Mia’s daughter craves the stability of  the Richardson family. Then enters an adoption case that ignites everyone’s secrets.  

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca 

This novella might only be 112 pages, but it excels in creepiness. The book is composed of fictional transcripts between two women in 2000. When Agnes joins an LGBTQ forum to sell an antique apple peeler, she begins an exchange with Zoe. The two quickly become entangled in a BDSM relationship over email and instant messenger, where Zoe’s demands become increasingly deranged.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

The unnamed narrator at the center of this novel is unlikable. She is all of the bad and vapid things white women could be at the turn of the century. She went to an Ivy League for an art history degree. She is undeservingly rich and refuses to work. She eats poorly but is thin. She’s a terrible friend, and she uses everyone to her own advantage. And yet, she is a product of the environment: Manhattan in the early aughts, and it’s easy access to eating disorders, prescription pills, and hiding away unseen. 

Sonora

Sonora by Hannah Lillith Assadi

Ahlam aka Ariel, the daughter of an Israeli waitress and a Palestinian cab driver, and Laura, the daughter of a rumored witch who has been dead for many years, are best friends. Meeting in the suburban desert of Arizona, they decide to run off after a string of deaths at their high school. They find a free place to stay to Brooklyn, where they immediately become entangled in partying, drugs, and sex. This poetic tale across landscapes and time addresses toxic friendships and what it means to find home.

Red at the Bone

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

In overlapping narratives, Red at the Bone slowly unveils a family’s history. The novel opens in 2001 on Melody’s sixteenth birthday, where she is surrounded by family and wears her mother’s old dress— a dress her mother never wore because  she became pregnant with Melody before her sixteenth birthday. Considering the present, her parents’ past, and even her grandparents’ past, this book tackles generational trauma, racism, and how the past can define the present.

The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R. Sloan 

The early 2000’s loved nothing more than making young women famous. Cassidy “Sassy Cassy” Holmes was Britney meets Xtina, only  hotter and in the most famous girl band around. But after a blow up in 2002, the group disbands.Years later, Sassy Cassy is found dead by suicide. Now, her old bandmates must reunite to process her death and  make some meaning out of the tragedy. This novel also takes a critical look at the sexism and racism of pop bands from the turn of the century, and how that ultimately impacted the women in their lives.

Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette

When a small parish outside of Buffalo closes, four nuns are sent to work at a sober living facility. One of the nuns, Agatha, decides to also take a job at a local Catholic school as a geometry teacher. The friendship between the nuns is at the center of this novel, and the hidden atrocities of the Catholic Church  lurk in the background. Agatha finds herself within a cast of lovable misfits and all former catholics, especially the queer folks, will recognize the themes present here.

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