Today’s the first day of A.L. Player’s blog tour for her new book Class of ’98, and I’m thrilled to help kick things off!
I love this book for a lot of reasons. But one of them is the way it reminds me of all the crazy highs and lows of being a teenager. Some things that, as an adult, I’ve boxed up and tucked away in a dusty little corner of my mind. Amber strikes a wonderful balance in her story, and tosses off the rose-colored glasses we often use when looking back. I remember the great friends I made and the wonderful times we had. But I also remember the social politics, the bullying and hormone-fueled drama associated with being a teen. And just trying to figure out where my place was, or where it would be, when I finally became an adult.
Amber and I both spent our teenage years in the 90s, and we recently had a chat about the experience. By the time our conversation was over (I couldn’t print it all here as it was a bit lengthy and may have included more than one Newsies gif), we discovered we both still know all the lyrics to “You Were Meant For Me,” owned some of the same shirts (including the one I’m photoed in above), had a mutual crush on Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon (and still do), and perhaps most importantly, that we definitely would have hung out in high school. So if you feel like taking a walk down memory lane, complete with platform Mary Janes, Delia’s catalogs, and YM magazine quizzes, read on. Information about the giveaway and a peek at a scene from ’98 will come after.
But first, here’s the book summary from GoodReads, in case you missed it in my last post:
Jackie Dunn and Matt Stewart barely knew each other in high school, back when she was a blue-haired alterna-kid and he was a preppy jock. High school rules dictated they’d never hang out, or sit at the same lunch table, or God forbid, date.
But when a weird storm transports them from their ten-year reunion back to senior year, they have to work together to figure out a way to get back to 2008.
Stuck in high school, Jackie and Matt agree to tough it out. They agree to do everything exactly as they remember, even though that means staying with the boyfriend Jackie knows will betray her, or playing nice with the girl that will someday be Matt’s ex-wife. Soon, they come to rely on one other, even become friends.
Jackie’s just starting to get used to curfews and term papers again, when Matt hits her with the biggest surprise of all: he’s fallen in love with her. He’ll change the past however he has to if it means a future with Jackie. But Jackie’s terrified they’ll not only alter their lives, but the lives of everyone around them.
Diana: Why did you want to write a story like Class of ’98?
Amber: I didn’t know when I started writing it that it would be a comedy, but I’m sure it became one because of how much I love comedies. And everything I write has to have romance in it. I also thought it was funny that if Bailey [Amber’s husband] and I had met in high school, we would have hated each other. And here we are, married.
Diana: It is interesting, considering you two probably wouldn’t have been in the same social circles in high school. Those were always so concrete. At least, in my experience.
Amber: We definitely would not have been, lol. He was Mr. Preppy, but not a jock. I was quite Goth.
Diana: So did you have blue hair, like Jackie in Class of ’98?
Amber: I did not. The closest I got was this burgundy-purple-ish color. Mostly it was black. Or red.
Diana: So why did you decide to make blue Jackie’s hair color of choice?
Amber: Because if I could dye my hair weird colors now and get away with it, that’s what I’d start with. Which is weird, because my favorite colors are purple and green. But my first choice would be blue–go figure.
Diana: Did you have to deal with the same peer scrutiny over your hair that Jackie does in the book?
Amber: No, it was more my clothes and behavior that I caught grief for. My peer issues were more about me being a weirdo.
Diana: In Class of ’98, Jackie’s psychologist father explains that Jackie dressed differently and dyed her hair as a way to rebel against the norm and show her peers that she wasn’t willing to conform to their expectations. Was your motivation to look different in high school the same as Jackie’s?
Amber: It’s funny, I think it was the same motivation, but I didn’t understand it like that then.
Diana: At the time, did the things others say to you really bother you? I know I was picked on just for being myself, which was pretty tough.
Amber: Well, when I was thirteen I really got picked on. Bullied, I guess. And so when I got to 9th grade, I sort of wanted to display with my clothes and attitude that I liked being different. I wanted to freak people out. That mostly only lasted through tenth grade, though. As my friends liked to say, in 11th grade I “fell into the Gap”. But I still dyed my hair a lot.
Diana: That’s so cool that you embraced who you were. Did it still bother you when peers said mean things about you?
Amber: I cared, it still bothered me. But I leaned into it. The bullying didn’t hurt as bad as it did in middle school. It helped that a lot of the people around me were pushing the boundaries, too.
Diana: And I’m sure you probably see some of the same things going in high school these days, as a teacher.
Amber: Definitely. That’s so hard, to find your footing.
Diana: As a teacher, being in that environment every day, what would you say are the main differences between being a teenager in the 90s and being one today?
Amber: Social media, #1. I point out in ’98 that Jackie’s able to hide from her boyfriend and best friend because you could go a few days without talking to someone outside of school. Now you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of class to text.
Diana: Whereas, back in the 90s, you could go home, and maybe call your friends or something, but otherwise you weren’t “connected” 24/7.
Amber: Right. The school environment follows them home in the form of Facebook, etc. And in the 90s you’d get in trouble for staying on the phone too long, lol.
Diana: What are some other differences?
Amber: I think being a teenager is pretty much the same messy, wonderful, awful experience no matter when you live it, 13th century or 30th. Even though it feels like it’s not the same when you’re living it. It’s too easy for adults to say, “Enjoy it! You don’t have bills to pay!” or whatever. But the fact is, all of the stuff that makes the teenage experience what it is is real and true. And anyone who says different remembers it wrong.
Diana: I think you captured that really well in ’98, using the whole premise of a 28 year old trapped in an 18 year old’s body. You had an adult perspective looking at the teenage world.
Amber: I tried to tell a very true story of how I would feel if I had to go back to high school for a while. Because in some stories, they’re like, “Ooh, I’d give my algebra teacher the finger and go out with that super hot guy!” No, no you wouldn’t. You’d do your homework and be terrified. Because living it is totally different than imagining it.
Diana: Yeah…but then you’d also be able to have a more adult perspective when it comes to dealing with peers, which, as we see in the book, has it’s pros and cons.
Amber: Right. Jackie has that moment where she thinks, “Wow, this doesn’t bother me, but it would have.”
Diana: I love those scenes when Jackie confronts bullying and could care less about what they’re saying about her.
Amber: Haha! That’s a little bit of wish fulfillment.
Diana: Okay, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about some of the 90s references in your book. Were there any in particular you wanted to make sure you included?
Amber: It’s funny, most of them snuck in without my permission. And I just want to point out, I was committed to my research. I looked up exactly which game Jackie and Matt would have been able to watch after they went ice skating! I looked up the MTV schedules for fall ’97! I love the internet.
Diana: Sometimes I wonder what we ever did without it.
Amber: When I was telling them about ’98, one of Bailey’s students asked if I’d rather live back in the 90’s or now I said, now, no question. Because of Google. Although I have really started to miss the 90s fashions…
Diana: Me too! The flared jeans, the clunky shoes. Delia’s!
Amber: I’m just going to start rocking baby doll tees and chokers and dark lipstick. Platform Mary Janes. Jellies.
Diana: Okay, so let me ask you this pretty boring, generic question, but with a 90s twist: if you were stranded on a deserted island and could only bring one movie, one CD, and one book from the 90s, what would they be
Amber: Oh man, that’s tough. CD would have to be Peter Gabriel’s Us. Just because that’s my favorite, and I listen to it endlessly. Book from the 90s–I Know This Much Is True. Second book choice: Bridget Jones’s Diary. Movie choice is actually really hard. I’m going to have to pull a Tommy Nine [one of Class of 98’s characters] and say Tommy Boy. Because I think I would never get tired of that movie.
Diana: Excellent choices. Oh, wait. You also get one 90s outfit.
Amber: Okay. Super wide-leg jeans. That yellow baby doll t-shirt with the daisy on it. Big, gigantic-soled black boots. I had this cool choker that had a flower pressed in glass in the pendant. And, of course, the “Rachel” haircut. Which I had. Dark, dark red lipstick and nails. I think the color was called “Vamp”.
Diana: Perfect! Clothes nostalgia. Now I want to grab the latest issue of YM or Seventeen.
Amber: I was so bummed when they stopped making YM.
Diana: I know! How am I supposed to know what the hot new nail color is? Or how to properly approach the boy I liked?
Amber: Right! Or whether you even liked him at all?? I need a quiz!!
Diana: Exactly! How else will I know if we’re even compatible?
Amber: That’s the tragedy.
Diana: Those were some good times. And now I want to go back to the 90s like Matt and Jackie, lol.
Amber: Let’s go wait on the porch for lightning to strike us, lol. Free trip to the 90s!
Giveaway! Enter here for your chance to win one of 4 copies of Class of ’98, as well as $10 iTunes gift card, so you can download some of your favorite 90’s hits.
Jackie typed “Catherine the Great” into the library catalog computer and watched as the green block cursor sluggishly deposited the letters on the black background. The two biographies she had picked up at the county library had not yielded quite enough information for her to complete her paper for history, so she decided to use her free period after English to check the school’s library. More than anything, the last month reminded her how glad she was after graduate school, when research papers had become a thing of her past. Well, for a while, anyway.
Two book titles popped up on the screen and she jotted down the call numbers. She picked up her bag and walked to the nonfiction section, where two girls tittered behind her as she scanned the shelves. She tried to ignore the laughter, but the girls at the other end of the aisle were determined to make their presence known. Without turning, Jackie knew it was Danielle Farber and Meghan Daly, two friends of Christy’s. Tiny and blonde, with perfect curling-iron curls, Danielle could have passed for Christy’s sister. Meghan, on the other hand, was a tall, thick-legged soccer player with a stick-straight black ponytail. Just being near them in the hall back in high school had been enough to send Jackie racing in the other direction. But now, with ten extra years of perspective under her belt, she held her ground.
“Hey, Jackie,” Danielle said.
“What’s up, Danielle?” she said, still browsing the stacks.
“Um, it’s really rude not to look at someone when they’re talking to you,” Meghan said as Danielle nodded her assent.
“Is that right?” Jackie pulled one of the books she was looking for from the shelf.
“Yeah. It’s pretty tacky, you know?” Danielle said.
The old nickname. She was one of two Jackies in her grade, the other a plain dishwater blonde with a nearly inaudible voice who dressed exclusively in neutral tones. Around ninth grade, in an effort to better distinguish about which Jackie one was talking, a few students had put together the nicknames: for blue-haired Jackie, Tacky Jackie. For the invisible woman, Khaki Jackie.
“Noted,” Jackie said, finally turning to the two girls. “Anything else?”
“I just wanted to tell you something,” Danielle said, strolling toward Jackie with Meghan in tow. Both girls wore baby doll dresses, which suited Danielle but looked ridiculous on Meghan’s tall, strong frame.
“So, tell me,” Jackie said, not dropping her gaze from Danielle’s narrowed brown eyes.
“I’ve been meaning to say how much I like your hair,” Danielle said
The memory of a thousand interactions of this kind stung Jackie. The punchline was coming. “Okay, thanks. See you around, Danielle.”
Meghan could not stifle her giggle. “Yeah, where do you get it done? Like, at the circus?”
Jackie stared at the two girls. “Yep, at the circus. Clown discount.”
The girls howled. “God, you are so weird. Don’t you ever want to be just, like, normal?” Danielle said.
“Not if it means being anything like you two bitches. Are we done?”
Danielle and Meghan stood open-mouthed as Jackie breezed past them, book in hand. Though the stupid comments did not really faze her now, she burned to remember how upset she would have been ten years earlier. She was so deep in her memories she did not even see Matt in front of her until she almost crashed into him.
“What was that about?” he asked.
“Oh, you heard that?” Jackie studied the We Love Reading! poster on the wall as Matt watched the two girls walk away.
“Yeah, why were Danielle and Meghan being so mean to you? They’re really nice to me,” he said.
Jackie snorted. “Of course they’re nice to you, Matt, they’re teenage bimbos and you’re a cute football player.”
“Yeah, but….” He narrowed his eyes. “I don’t get it. So your hair is a different color, so what? You’re still really cool.”
“Please don’t tell me you’re just now having this epiphany,” Jackie said. “High school ‘cool’ has nothing to do with real-world cool.” She started for the circulation desk and Matt fell into step with her.
“You seem like both kinds to me.”
She smiled a little. “That’s sweet. But the fact is, I was different. Different is scary.”
“So it doesn’t bother you then?”
Jackie handed her student ID to the librarian. “It used to. Not anymore though. Not, you know. Now.” She eyed the librarian warily, but the woman’s slack features said she had long since lost interest in student conversations. She returned Jackie’s ID and Jackie and Matt walked out to the hall.
A. L. Player teaches middle and high school English in Atlanta, GA. She lives with her guitar-playing, English-teaching husband and their three crazy rescue dogs. Her last name gets about the reaction you’d expect.
CLASS OF ’98 is Amber’s first novel.