Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"The Aqua Net Diaries: big hair, big dreams, small town" by Jennifer Niven

For anyone who has ever endured the relentless shame and soaring excitement of adolescence, critically acclaimed author Jennifer Niven shares her own hilarious and touching tales of teenage life at a Midwestern high school in the 1980s.

If you had found Jennifer Niven roaming the halls of the lone high school in Richmond, Indiana, in 1985, she would have had enormous hair. She would have been flirting with Tommy Wissel, and passing notes to her best friend Joey about whether Dean Waldemar was going to ask her to the dance. And her last name would have been McJunkin, because Niven is the pen name she planned to use whenever she finally graduated and became a famous writer/actress in some big city far, far away.

In her irresistibly charming and utterly true memoir, Jennifer takes readers back to that thrilling, excruciating, amazing, unnerving, awkward, and unforgettable time - high school - when life's greatest problems revolved around saying and doing the right thing, wrestling with geometric theorems, fretting over a bad hair day, waiting for the weekend's parties, trying not to die of boredom, and dying to be noticed by the most popular boy in school. Unique yet undeniably universal, [this book] is one girl's survival story of the best years of her life.

I wanted to read this book because it looked funny. I wanted to read it because it was set in Indiana, although not in the town where I grew up. And I really wanted to read it because the author and I were both high schoolers in the mid-80s, not to mention that it seemed we were both products of that decade. Her mother was born and raised in North Carolina, so we sort of have that in common (the author moves back to N.C. with her mom after her parents get divorced). It really seemed like a no-brainer - what's not to love about this?

Well, a lot, as it turns out. While I got nostalgic for my 80s, I quickly realized that Niven and I had very different high school experiences. She kept all her diaries/notes/pix/EVERYTHING from this time period (which makes me think that she's not really over high school), whereas I trashed stuff pretty fast. She was obviously WAY more popular than me, even though she claims to be an outsider. I really was an outsider, a band geek, a theater kid, etc. How do I know the difference between popular and not? Um, Niven had dates. Yes, dates, plural. And not with nerdy guys; she was dating some of the more popular guys. True outsiders don't date, and certainly not anyone that one would admit to. I had exactly ONE date my whole four years of high school. And I usually had only one or two friends each year, whereas she had her two closest friends, plus a good-sized circle of other friends.

I think that's why this book reads the way it does. I think the author's high school days really were the best years of HER life. But mine? HELL NO. I love my life now way more than I did in high school - you couldn't pay me to go back. I don't keep in touch with old classmates to see what everyone's doing (I don't care) nor have I been to the reunions. I think it's kinda sad that some people peaked back then and have been longing for those days since.   Overall, disappointing. I did, however, find myself wanting to dig up a good 80s mix tape when I finished. :-)

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