Set in New Jersey in 1991, this novel’s action is almost entirely confined to the local mall. This is a clever idea, and the author surprisingly is able to realize it nicely. Cassie Worthy is a new high school graduate eagerly looking forward to beginning New York City college life in the fall with her long-time boyfriend Troy. Both have been dedicated nerds in high school and have constructed a life plan to which they have been rigorously adhering. Unfortunately a few months before graduation, Cassie comes down with a mega case of mononucleosis. While she thinks Troy has been totally faithful to her during her enforced seclusion, it turns out that no, he has moved on to a new girlfriend but was waiting to tell Cassie because (a) he’s a coward and (b) he was waiting until he couldn’t avoid it any longer. Up to that point they both were employed at America’s Best Cookie, but of course Cassie can’t be working with her ex day in and day out, so she lands a job instead at another shop in the mall. This shop, a kind-of-trashy but very successful clothing store, is owned by her long-ago best friend’s mother, Gia, and the long-ago best friend herself (Drea) works there. Cassie is mighty glad to have a job for the few months before college starts, and is a good employee.
She does, however, look down on her former best friend for being “only” a saleswoman, although both Gia and Drea are truly outstanding at what they do. Cassie has a lot to learn through the course of this book about being judgemental, narrow-minded, and selfish. It takes a heap of living, but by the end of the book we do see that she recognizes some of her shortcomings and tries to rectify them.
Drea has a story about a treasure hidden years earlier in the mall, and she enlists Cassie’s help in finding it. This treasure hunt is very cleverly constructed and provides an entertaining structure for the plot.
The author does a fine job of drawing all her characters, and the reader will find them likable and sympathetic. Young or old, nerd or cool kid, all kinds of workers–readers will be interested in those who populate the World of the Mall.
There is a lot of sex talk and casual sex in the book, but examples of restraint and abstention also show up. There is a lot of coarse language. The story is instructive, entertaining, and well-executed. I’d be inclined to recommend it to teen readers, but I did have to squint a bit at all the sex.