What is it like to grow up in a time of ever-advancing technology, over-abundance of consumer goods, continuous world-wide connectedness (reality TV, celebrity gossip, social media, etc…), and an uncertain future? Just ask a millennial.
Or read a book! Whether presenting the bleak outlook of this generation and its impact on the future, like Don Delillo’s White Noise or offering a sliver of hope for this generation’s youth like C.E. Medford’s Magic America, these books capture the idiosyncrasies of millennial life. Follow these young characters as they navigate the perplexing, high-tech, post-modern world that marks the life of a millennial.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Oscar Wao, an extremely overweight, ghetto nerd living in New Jersey, tries to find true love. However, a family curse, known as fukú, haunts the Wao family, dooming them all to tragedy and disastrous love affairs. Diaz’s story is funny, informative, and both heart-warming and heart-wrenching.
Milennial connection: As a self-proclaimed nerd, Oscar is obsessed with pop-culture, like many millennials. He also deals with obesity, ethnic confusion (as an American Dominican with strong ties to both cultures), and a longing for sex- stuff many millennials can understand.
Citrus County by John Brandon
Toby, a junior-high boy, is dissatisfied with his creepy home-town and his own life. He strives to stand apart from his Floridian community. But Toby’s choices are troublesome and being different proves troublesome. Brandon’s novel includes eerie kidnappings, rednecks, manatees, criminals, and descriptions of life in contemporary Citrus County.
Milennial connection: Millennials are often described as youth without much guidance, and this book hones in on that theme, Toby and his friend Shelby get away with appalling acts as they try to add excitement to their lives in modern Florida, a state characterized by strip-malls, suburbs, swamps, and materialism. Any of those sound familiar?
Magic America: Coming of Age in an Altered State by C.E. Medford
Hope, her fairy Godmother, and their family live in an alternate version of Trenton, New Jersey in the 1980’s, where LoboChem, a chemical manufacturing company, is destroying lands and lives without care- as long as there’s a profit. But Hope is determined to make her fluorescent, urbo-suburban home-town a safe place for all the funky and enchanting creatures who live there (including radioactive cats).
Milennial connection: This story is about growing up in a magical-realistic version of the modern world. Major themes include corporate greed, environmental abuse, and the belittlement of individuals in mass society, which many choose to ignore while going about their daily routine. Hope is a refreshing and optimistic character, an uncommon trait for a millennial.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
There’s been a murder in this postmodern world. The aptly named (in a modern-alternative way) Blue van Meer finally makes some eccentric friends in a clique known as the Bluebloods. This book is as much about the plot as it is about poetic, quirky, and complex writing.
Milennial connection: Part of what makes this book so modern and millennial is it’s gimmicky use of visual aids, over-intellectualized writing and unconventional names. The characters themselves are pretty conventional, modern-day teens, especially Blue, who professes to know a lot about pop-culture.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Nine-year-old Oskar is a New Yorker living in the wake of 9/11. Oskar fills his time trying to figure out the mystery behind a key he found in his recently deceased father’s closet. He adventures around all the boroughs of New York, meeting strange characters with amazing stories to share, while learning about his own family history in the process.
Milennial connection: As one of the most historically defining moments of the 21st century, 9/11 has had an enduring effect on millennials who grew up with increasing fears of terrorism alongside excessive precautionary measures. Oskar is a young protagonist who has to deal with two incredibly difficult and confusing tragedies at once, while trying to understand and adjust to the rapidly changing world.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
The Circle is an incredibly modern internet company which has created a universal operating system, connecting users’ personal email, social media, banking, and purchases to create one easy online identity. Mae Holland feels more than lucky to get to work for the Circle, considered the most influential company in America. But uncomfortable things happen on the Circle’s campus, where workers have almost no privacy. Eggers’ story is eerie and suspenseful; it will make you question how much of a role the ever-pervasive internet should play in society.
Milennial connection: This book would not exist without the internet. The same could be said about the social lives and identity of most millennials. In an age where concerns over privacy is an increasing issue, The Circle will heighten some of our worst fears about the internet.
Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin
This is Tao Lin’s autobiographical novella, which takes place mostly in Manhattan over the course of 2 years. Lin is often described as an irritating, awkward, and incredibly intelligent artist capable of catching the voice of his generation. Shoplifting smartly follows Lin to posh clubs in New York City and not-so-hip jail cells, and through his battles with contemporary ailments (depression, boredom, etc…)
Milennial connection: Lin gives readers a glimpse of millennial life in America’s city that never sleeps, where failing and running out of cash are common fears and obstacles. Fittingly, Lin’s novella was sold at Urban Outfitters. Also, many millennials will remember the “stealing from American Apparel” faze well.
White Noise by Don Delillo
Jack Gladney is a teacher living in Middle America, with Babette, his fourth wife. His world is shaken when a black chemical cloud created by an industrial accident floats over his town. But Delillo makes you question; what is more harmful, this obvious black cloud or the invisible, unnatural chemicals floating through the air, from microwaves or radio transmissions. What about the dangerous, dull hum of a highly consumerist society?
Milennial connection: Delillo mocks society’s easy acceptance of mass culture, name-branded ultra-consumerism, and the disappearance of individual identity. Jack’s four kids are attached to modern technology, and demonstrate technologies scary ability to desensitize us, starting from youth. Also notable is the fact that Jack has been through multiple divorces.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Welcome to a world where social-media is no longer confined to the screen and people walk around with hotness ratings and credit scores on display. Set in near-future New York City, this dystopian novel shows readers what it’s like to be a middle-aged immigrant amongst a hedonistic generation obsessed with social media and buying things. It is a tale of love, and the difficulty in pursuing romance, especially among two people who are not quite up-to-date with modern society.
Milennial connection: Like White Noise, Shteyngart’s novel comments on what he finds to be the ills of contemporary society, mainly our ability to ignore individuals and focus on superficial traits deemed important by consumerist culture and social media. The novel portrays what it’s like to not quite fit in to a dysfunctional, emotionally detached, un-romantic, and economically burdened life.
Featured image courtesy of Crushable.