About the Book

Title: The Mall
Published: 2020
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: Retro Neon
BFF Charm: Yay x 2
Talky Talk: Megan McCaffertastic
Bonus Factors: ’90s Mall, Pineville, Scavenger Hunt
Relationship Status: High School Reunion Fling

Cover Story: Retro Neon

This cover is simple yet eye-catching, and the neon definitely reminds me of the mall arcade, though IMO the girl at the bottom strikes more of an ’80s vibe (to be fair, the book is set in 1991, so a late ’80s overlap makes sense). Also, that gal looks way too cool to be the main character (sorry, Cassie), so it’s a bit misleading, but for most of us, all that matters is seeing “Megan McCafferty” on the cover, which means I’m just quibbling at this point. 

The Deal

Cassie Worthy ended her senior year with a major case of mono, so now that she’s back in action, she’s determined to make the summer of 1991 count–which means maximizing time with her boyfriend, Troy, by working side-by-side at the America’s Best Cookie store at the mall before they both head to NYC for college. Unfortunately, her plans are pulverized when Troy dumps her, and she’s forced to find another job, landing her at Bellarosa Boutique, where her ex-childhood-bestie, Drea, works. Cassie finds herself adrift for the first time in her life and just wants to fast forward to the fall, but the world of the mall proves to be a surprising disruptor, challenging her to examine herself while providing a different kind of retail therapy. 

BFF Charm: Yay x 2

2 BFF charms

It’s impossible not to see shades of Jessica Darling in Cassie: her “Girl Most Likely to Succeed” award; her judgy attitude; her biting sense of humor; her stubborn nature. And if those qualities sound negative to you, trust me, they’re all a part of Cassie’s charm. She’s flawed in such a relatable way, particularly because her most exasperating moments spring from insecurity, and even as I rolled my eyes at her hyper self-analysis, I was rooting for Cassie to take a chance on herself, to understand her potential and strive to reach it. 

While Cassie reminds me of myself in high school, Drea Bellarosa reminds me of the opposite. She’s freaking FABULOUS, y’all. From her fierce fashion sense (Claudia Kishi meets Dynasty) to her no-nonsense attitude, Drea is fearless, and I love how much she challenges Cassie. The only thing bigger than her personality is her hair, as it should be

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

It’s obvious to everyone (except Cassie) that Troy suuuuucks–dude has a real Len Levy vibe–so when she has a meet-antagonism-cute with a boy who works at Sam Goody, I wiggled my fingers together with glee. For better or worse, Megan McCafferty really dates the look of her love interests, so while Marcus Flutie has white-boy-dreads (a fact I aggressively ignore), Sam* is an Asian-American guy with a pompadour and rockabilly boots. Mmmkay? He’s far and away the best guy in the mall, and it’s frustrating that it takes Cassie so long to realize that, although I like the slow percolation of their romance. With that said, I didn’t feel their chemistry so much as read it, and given McCafferty’s talents in this area, I found the lack of sparks disappointing. 

*He and Cassie don’t exchange names when they meet, so Cassie refers to him by the name of the store where he works. 

Talky Talk: Megan McCaffertastic

This is 10000% a Megan McCafferty joint, LET US REJOICE! Every element of her trademark style is in full effect. Engagingly familiar tone? Check. Breezy dialogue that crackles with life? Check. Dynamically vivid characters? Check. Humor that runs the gamut from sarcastic to cartoonish? Check. Authentic adolescent emotions that make you feel simultaneously embarrassed and totally seen? Check check check! In the time that’s passed since her last YA novel, McCafferty has lost none of her flair, and I was both relieved and overjoyed to savor her voice wrapped in a new story. 

Bonus Factor: ’90s Mall

The Parkway Center Mall is a mecca of nostalgic consumerism, with stores like Spencer Gifts, Bath & Body Works, Sam Goody (grab a CD from Color Me Badd or Wilson Phillips!), Kay-Bee Toys, Orange Julius, and more. And if that wasn’t ’90s enough for you, wait until you read Cassie’s “90210 Scale of Parkway Center Mall Employment Awesomeness,” with the easiest jobs in the coolest stores landing, natch, in the Dylan McKay tier. I had a blast exploring the mall’s ecosystem, from the senior citizen aerobic dance troupe performances in the food court to the teen employee parties in the second basement, known as “The Cabbage Patch.” 

Bonus Factor: Pineville

Oh, did I mention that this book is set in Pineville, NJ?!! Jessica Darling and Cassie Worthy might hate it, but I was over the moon to be back. There’s some great easter eggs, including a few references to Seaside Heights and the interesting story of Tommy and Vince D’Abruzzi, more on that below. But you guys! It gets even better! BETHANY DARLING IS IN THIS BOOK! She works at Surf*Snow*Skate (it’s in the Dylan McKay category, obvs) and is in the prime of her tanned high school glory. Bethany, ILU.

Bonus Factor: Scavenger Hunt

Screenshot from National Treasure, with three characters holding torches in an ancient building

Sure, it’s a little out of left field, but who doesn’t love a search for treasure, complete with mysterious clues? Drea enlists Cassie to help her find money allegedly stashed somewhere in the mall by Tommy D’Abruzzi before his untimely death, and while it’s not the most complicated of puzzles, it does involve Cabbage Patch Kids, so major points for originality. 

Relationship Status: High School Reunion Fling

When I saw this book across the room, it triggered so many great flashbacks to my ’90s adolescence. I was able to escape, for one night, to a world I miss dearly, and while it will never replace my epic YA romance with the Jessica Darling series, The Mall took me on a lively romp down memory lane (and left me itching for a Cinnabon).  

Literary Matchmaking

Sloppy Firsts (Jessica Darling #1)
Second Helpings (Jessica Darling #2)
Charmed Thirds (Jessica Darling #3)
Fourth Comings (Jessica Darling #4)
Perfect Fifths (Jessica Darling #5)

If you have somehow managed to survive life without having read the Jessica Darling series, I BEG OF YOU to read it.


Need another hit of ’90s nostalgia? Cue up some girl band pop with Fireworks by Katie Cotugno.

The Blonde of the Joke

Attention, all shoppers. Bennett Madison’s The Blonde of the Joke is a John Hughes-meets-John-Waters read that takes place almost entirely in a mall.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press and received neither money nor cocktails for this review. The Mall is available now.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.