If you’re aching for the ‘80s you can always revisit these classic books, but hindsight can be 20/20, and there is something fun about journeying back through a more contemporary read. Here are a few newer titles that will satisfy your nostalgia needs.
Every so often an author blows your mind with how creative they are. Dey’s novel, Heartbreaker, is going to do that. A story about a mother and daughter and their involvement with a cult in 1985, it’s told from varying points of view (that are better left a surprise) that will have you poring over the pages trying to solve the slew of mysteries the daughter, Pony, is working through. Dey has reinvented the coming of age story with this vivid, dark, and often times funny sci-fi journey.
Maybe you’ve already seen Steven Spielberg’s filmic representation of Cline’s novel, but that’s no reason not to try the source material. The bestseller is fantastically clever in that it simultaneously provides a glimpse of our potential future (highly dependent on and escapist through technology) while clinging to the past. Its hero, young Wade Watts, is a gamer, and when he begins to play the game of his life — where the consequences are literally life and death — his masterful knowledge of ’80s trivia comes in more than handy. You may find yourself looking up a reference or two here and there, but generally Cline does a great job working everything in in a way that keeps the plot moving but allows you to pause and marvel over (and miss) what video games, music, and film used to be.
Rowell’s novel may be YA, but its subject matter and setting make it just as amazing for an older audience. Eleanor is a red-headed girl dealing with puberty while growing up with a difficult family life. Park, a biracial sixteen-year-old, rides the line of “popular” in his school, but oftentimes feels misunderstood. He isn’t sure he really wants to be a part of that crowd. When you’re a teenager, you’re suddenly aware of adult issues and feelings you may have never understood before, but are still told you’re a child. It can lead you to find sanctuary in the most surprising places. Rowell’s depiction of two high school outsiders bonding (and falling in love) over The Smiths, comics, and riding the bus is so on point it will have you poring over old mix tapes and handwritten notes for days after you finish the last page.
This is a lighter read compared to many of the other books on this list, but we shouldn’t forget that the ’80s were filled with a lot of fun, color, (just look at the aerobics wear!) and antics. Billy Marvin and his friends, all under the age of 18, are determined to steal a Playboy Magazine that features Wheel of Fortune’s Vanna White. (That in and of itself is a very ’80s problem, since today these boys would just find what they want on the internet.) They set their sights on bamboozling the convenience store owner’s daughter, but Billy discovers a good plan can be easily foiled when a real connection rears its head. Rekulak tosses in lots of great references, and the fast-moving plot and young protagonist make this an easy read for when you’re craving a little ’80s high jinx.
New York is a city where decades matter: It morphs to fit and represent each one in a way few other places can. Prentiss’s first novel immerses its readers into the 1980s art world, following a young woman who has just moved to SoHo and a critic with synesthesia (essentially he can taste color). The story of dreamers coming to New York is nothing new, but Prentiss offers a gritty, but loving, portrayal of a time when squalid living added to your authenticity, and art was full of adventure and choices.
Carol Rifka Brunt
AIDS, the fear around it, and the loss of so many, was an undeniably huge part of the ’80s. And while this debut novel, set in 1987, may not have you feeling nostalgic in the same way other titles on this list will, it’s still not to be missed. When June, a fourteen-year-old girl, loses her uncle, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with a man, also feeling tremendous loss, at his funeral. Brunt explores so many challenging topics with an honesty that will move you.
It might be fair to say that summer romance has taken a bit of a nosedive since cellphones. Perhaps that’s just speculation, but Aciman’s compelling, and at times breathtaking read set in 1980s Italy will remind you what it meant to just sit in the presence of your crush with no distractions; and after they’re gone having no means of truly keeping in touch. No social media stalking, no sending texts out into the void, a summer romance had an expiration date, which meant passion and life lessons came in six-week spans that you’d remember for a lifetime. The award-winning film should also be added to your list, but Aciman’s novel is even more daring at times, and reading certain passages can feel a little like those old summer flings — a little secret only you knew even when surrounded by others.