Fashion, Food Courts, and Music REVIEWING The Mall

Towards the end of last year, my sister won a giveaway on Goodreads for an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of a YA novel. She handed it over to me and told me I could review it for my blog so here we are! This novel was initially slated for release in June 2020, but was pushed to July. 

The Mall

Author: Megan McCafferty
Genre: YA
Release Date: July 28, 2020

The Mall


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 bestselilng author of the Jessica Darling series, takes readers on an epic trip back in time to The Mall." 


For starters, I've never heard of the Jessica Darling series, or Megan McCafferty. I have never read one of her books. My having access to this ARC in no way impacts this review. I also can't quote from the book as edits may have been made to the book from the time of my receiving the novel to its actual date of publication. Let's get fully started here. 

I really like the cover for this book. I like the visual of the neon sign glow. I like that it picks neon pastel colors and only goes with an outline of the words and of Cassie (I'm assuming it's Cassie, because why wouldn't it be?). I think it really conveys a retro-commercial-teen vibe. It looks kinda old school, but still cool in its own way. It has the letters like you could find on old style food courts or shops. I think the cover is just really creative and I like it. Moving on. 

What is The Mall about? 

The Mall, as the synopsis says, is a coming of age story. Cassandra Worthy is a teen who is working at the mall during the summer before she starts college. She and her boyfriend, Troy, were hired at the same food court job towards the end of the school year, but Cassie was set back because she got mono. She missed prom, she missed graduation, and now it is June and she is at the mall, ready to get back up and at things. Or at least she was, until she found out her boyfriend has been cheating on her, and that it all started when she missed prom. He had insisted he would stay with her for prom instead of going, but she insisted he go, not wanting him to miss out too, and it ended up just being a recipe for disaster. His new girlfriend attacks her with body spray to the face, her first day back at the mall, which leads up to her finding out that the plan she had with him for the near future is in shambles. She now can't work at the same job, is single, and is basically alone. Her parents loved Troy so for a while she can't get the courage to tell them that they have broken up. On top of that, her parents, within the first few chapters, tell Cassie that they are getting a divorce. Everything is changing in Cassie's world and seemingly not for the better, immediately after she's just gotten back on her feet after illness. The girl is having a bad time, to say the least, at a critical growing up point of her life. The transition from high school to college is a big deal and already, her transition seems to be heading on a downward slope. 

The beginning of the book has Cassie experiencing all of these personal crises. Thankfully, her ex-best friend's mom saves her partially from at least one problem. While trying to find a socially acceptable job, Cassie breaks down, which is when Gia Bellarosa, owner of the high-end Bellarosa boutique, finds her. She offers Cassie a job running the books for the store and Cassie takes it. Throughout the book, Cassie moves through the social hierarchy of the mall and ends ups on a treasure hunt with her ex-best friend, Drea, to find a stash of money supposedly hidden by some guys who were in on the Cabbage Patch black market. Yes, that is Cabbage Patch, as in Cabbage Patch Dolls. While following different clues to the next clue, Cassie meets other people who work in the mall, gets to know them, works on her friendship with Drea, and learns a lot about who she is. 

Quick warning: this book is full of hormone-crazy teenagers with little to no supervision, so swear words and sexual content is abound. I wouldn't say it is completely over the top, but it is part of the content, so be forewarned. If you don't mind, jump on in, and if you do, this book probably won't be your cup of tea. 

Another quick note. This book is laden full of 90s references. If you aren't the least bit familiar with 90210, Matthew Broderick, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Morrissey, and frosted tips, then you might end up being pretty confused. I've seen some readers in other reviews say that they were completely lost with the references having been born in the later parts of the 90s, or even 1995. I was born in 1994, and I understood almost all the references. I have never watched 90210, but I know what it is and have enough familiarity to be solid. I honestly don't think birth year is what determines a person's knowledge or affinity for an era of time. Plenty of people are obsessed with different historic time periods and enjoy reading about them despite the fact that they definitely did not live in those times. Your knowledge of the period in question may negatively impact you, but otherwise, there isn't a lot to get bogged down by. The core of this story has nothing to do with the 90s and has everything to do with a girl that feels somewhat lost. If you have been a teen, you probably know where she is coming from to a certain degree, even if you didn't do the things she does or experience what she has. We have all been in our own version of this where we feel confused about ourselves and what we're doing, at any given age. 

Let's talk about Cassie though for a bit more. Cassie is a very smart -- one could even say nerdy -- kind of girl. She knows how to use computers well, she got good grades, and she studied hard in school. She expects a lot from herself and thought a lot about her future. This all contributes to why she falls so hard on her face when it all crumbles in front of her. Cassie is generally a good girl, but in this book she makes a few bad choices relationship wise, many people would say, while figuring herself out. She is a generally nice girl, at times awkward, and she has been known to look down on her friend Drea for how her relationships have gone. Through the course of the book, Cassie learns how to stand not just on her own (she has done that), but how to stand confidently. Cassie's main problem seems to stem from her inability to accept herself or to outwardly feel awkward, instead of owning who she is and feeling good in her own skin. 

Troy is a sleaze, we don't need to talk about him. He's not a fully developed character really. He's just a means for Cassie to begin her own personal growth. Same goes for his new girlfriend really. Some characters are here to set the scene, and others are actually important in showing Cassie her way to her improved self, like Zoe, who was previously a manager at the food court place that Cassie was supposed to work at. Zoe knows what Cassie is going through, because she has been there herself and she kind of quietly looks out for Cassie and roots for her from the shadows. 

Drea is the other main character that we read about. Drea and Cassie used to be friends. Drea is a girl who doesn't have a great reputation because she often gets into relationships that don't last very long. She also isn't known for being super smart, but she does have her own dreams. In time, Cassie becomes part of trying to help her realize those dreams, so the two are integral to helping each other grow during the six week summer period that they suddenly find themselves sharing together. Initially, Drea isn't really likable, and really, a lot of the characters aren't initially. Some stay unlikable, while others do kind of grow on you and you at least hope that things will get better for them. That they'll continue to grow as people when the last page is finally turned and they continue on into the fictional abyss of their world. 

The entire book basically takes place inside the mall, or in cars on the way to the mall. Generally, this seems like it is a strange decision, because how much drama and development can you really experience in a setting as mundane as a mall? It turns out that there is a LOT that can be done. I didn't tire of the setting at all. We kept seeing new facets as the story progressed. You get to explore the small slowly, over time, which helps to keep it feeling fresh. I also tend to like scavenger and treasure hunt concepts, so I liked the journey that Cassie and Drea were going on within the mall. 

Overall, I did like this book. I don't think it is an exceptional book and I think that it could easily annoy or bore some readers depending on what they liked. For me, I thought it was a light, pulpy YA novel. I liked the 90s setting because I do enjoy 90s music and movies. I liked Cassie's journey and the way that her friendship with Drea is addressed and forced to be re-evaluated by both girls. There is a lot of drama, but it all basically makes sense and is plausible. The treasure hunt is not as plausible, but it changes things up enough to keep this book from being too mundane. I give The Mall a Lone Star rating of ✯✯✯.  

 I liked it, but it really is just light fun. This isn't a book to take super seriously or that will make you think about it for hours. It isn't very cerebral. However, I do think that this book could be very beneficial to some teens who may be experiencing similar transitions or hardships. This may be a book that helps them find grounding within themselves because they can see Cassie's progression and eventual self-acceptance. Or they may just complain that they're too young to understand any of the references. Who knows? This book may have a hard time nailing down a target audience, but I think if it does, it will be loved by whoever that audience is that finds it. 

Thanks for tuning in to this installment from The Real World According to Sam, where I bring the books straight to your computer screen and even put in my own two cents on them. 

If you want to look into getting a copy of this book and reading it for yourself, once more, it releases on: July 28, 2020.