Cover of Throwback, with an Asian teen girl wearing airpods and a different Asian teen girl, flipped upside down above her, with a 90s flip phone and a yellow plaid Clueless outfit on, all against a rainbow neon background

About the Book

Title: Throwback
Published: 2023
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: Cleverly Contemporary Historical
BFF Charm: Heck Yes!
Talky Talk: Retro
Bonus Factors: Back to the Future, The 90s
Anti-Bonus Factor: The 90s
Relationship Status: 💯

Cover Story: Cleverly Contemporary Historical

The cover is GORGEOUS, y’all. A teenaged Gen Zer wearing AirPods mirrors a teenaged Gen Xer holding a 90s phone. The title of the book, Throwback, is written upside-down and rightside-up in different fonts. It’s very contemporary while also Clueless.

The Deal: 

Samantha doesn’t really get along with her mother, Priscilla — she doesn’t understand the things that Priscilla deems important, like joining a country club or wearing the latest fashions. Priscilla also seems to have a strained relationship with her own mother, Samantha’s Halmoni (“grandmother” in Korean), which originated sometime before Priscilla finished high school. When Halmoni lands herself in the hospital, Priscilla and Samantha have a huge fight, one that Sam isn’t sure they can come back from. 

When Samantha takes a rideshare to school after the fight, she finds herself… in a similar, yet eerily wrong world. The school is the same, but the kids are all different, the lockers are the wrong color, and OMG, there’s 17-year-old Priscilla walking the halls. Samantha’s magical rideshare mission is to heal the rift between herself and Priscilla so that she can go back to the future. She’s convinced that she needs to help Priscilla win Homecoming Queen. Is that all that it takes to get back to her time? 

BFF Charm: Heck Yes!

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

Poor Sam! The magical rideshare dumped her in 1995, which is so totally different from her normal existence! Casual racism and misogyny abound; bullies are a thing; kids don’t wear their backpacks with the straps on both shoulders (leaving Gen Xers with bad back problems in the future…) Sam is outraged by everything — the heteronormativity of it all, the way all Asians are lumped into the same category, the footballer picking on the “lower-tier” jock, Jamie. I loved her; she’s a great main character, someone to really root for.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Sam, in her time, has a hot boyfriend named Curren. Now, aside from the dumb name, he’s a total fox. However, he’s not so attentive to Sam. So when she meets a mysterious stranger in 1995 named Jamie, with floppy hair and a lean body, and they have inexplicable chemistry, it’s hard not to root for them… 

Talky Talk: Retro

Sam has to be careful not to say too many out-of-time phrases like “OMG” or “text.” She lives in a pre-cell phone era where kids wear pagers, and pay phones are the norm. Honestly, it was refreshing to read this book and tune out my phone for a few hours. It was nostalgic, with hoppin’ malls, homecoming dances, and references to My So-Called Life.

Bonus Factor: Back To The Future

Doc Brown Pours Beer into Mr. Fusion in Back to the Future

Anything referencing the Zemekis film is A-OK with me! Goo was obviously inspired by the 1985 movie, even including a school dance as the climax of the book, but I loved the Korean-American spin on it. 

Bonus Factor: The 90s

Screenshot from My So-Called Life, with Angela and Rayanne rocking 90s fashion

I love the 90s. The fashion in this book is cute and retro-chic, just in time for its resurgence now in 2023. The tech is lo-fi, with analog camcorders, boxy TVs, and mixtapes. There’s no TikTok, no social media, no Facebook. Climate change is a distant worry. Refreshing!

Anti-Bonus Factor: The 90s

However, the 90s also had casual misogyny! Sweep-it-under-the-rug racism! And, as Sam figures out as she reads current events trying to catch up with the times, the world is still a garbage fire in 1995 too. 

Relationship Status: 💯

Priscilla might not understand the 100 emoji, but Sam would. This book is a knockout; an easy 5/5 stars. I was slow with the first 3 chapters, but after the magical rideshare, I was hooked. 

Literary Matchmaking

Somewhere Only We Know

Another knockout by Maurene Goo, Somewhere Only We Know is about a K-pop star in a Roman Holiday setting.

The Love That Split the World

Looking for another time travel novel with a character on a mission? Check out Emily Henry’s The Love That Split the World.

As You Walk On By

If you’re looking for another date to a school dance, pick up Julian Winters’ As You Walk On By.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my own money. I received neither compensation nor kittens in exchange for this review. Throwback is available now.

Scout Luna is a writer living in Austin, TX, with her husband and three cats. Her hobbies include water coloring and reading!