Lost in the '90s
by Frank Anthony Polito
Woodward Avenue Books, 284 pp.
It's April 7, 2012, and 18 years after the death of "The King of Grunge" was announced, it "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
Get Lost in the '90s, as a time warp overtakes "Hazeltucky High" and a stage-dive gone awry catapults young Kurt Cobain namesake Kurt Peregrin on a journey back in time — to when his parents' love-hate romance began and he was in utero, and the day the "King of Grunge" died.
What was supposed to be Kurt's big break, playing the '90s-themed Spring Fling dance with his band, the Pogs, and the catalyst for getting out of HZ PK and making it big, went awry even before his time travel began: Just before taking the stage, his XGF, Chelsea Love, told him she's pregnant, a revelation Kurt doesn't take well — he does not want to end up like his parents, "stuck in the sorry Detroit suburb of Hazel Park."
At that moment, Kurt wishes he really was lost in the '90s, not just at a high school dance with a '90s theme. What follows is Kurt's trip back in time à la Back to the Future meets Parent Trap, as told via three distinct narrators: Kurt and his parents, Dave and Michelle.
Switching between 1990s parlance and the current abbreviated form of text-speak — whatev, OMG, WTF — Polito, who's been called a "cultural zeitgeist," deftly contrasts the language differences, '90s culture and current times: CDs vs. MP3s, how teens text instead of talk, schools are more diverse, how the "landscape" of HZ PK, in particular has changed.
In parallel, Lost in the '90s also chronicles Kurt's discovery of his family's past and his realizations that the similarities between him, his parents and their respective eras are greater than the differences: Just as Kurt endeavors to ditch his "crappy, little hometown," hit it big and not turn into his parents — he discovers they once felt the same.
Interspersed with myriad pop references, Lost in the '90s offers a historical snapshot and sweeping theme that things often aren't as bad as they seem. —Christa Buchanan
Lost in the '90s is set to be released April 5, the anniversary of Cobain's death, and will be available in paperback and enhanced e-book forms on amazon.com. Polito is planning to be in Detroit in for a book-signing and rave-inspired release party in late June. For a dose of '90s nostalgia and to get an advance copy, see facebook.com/lostinthe90s.
After the success of his hilarious, flashback-inducing, coming-of-age odes to everything '80s — Band Fags in 2008 and the sequel Drama Queers in 2009 — award-winning author Frank Anthony Polito now winks at the grunge era.
Polito, a veritable fountain of pop-culture knowledge, has an eye for minutiae and ear for colloquialisms, bringing bygone eras to life, talents he uses in the latest of his homages to his hometown of Hazel Park, Lost in the '90s.
Only this time, he published the book, his first young adult novel, via his new publishing company, Woodward Avenue Books.
In an interview with Metro Times, which plays a key role in the story, Polito discussed his reasons behind starting Woodward Avenue Books, his Peter Pan complex ("Maybe because I'm a teenage girl at heart?") and Hazel Park.
Metro Times: What was the impetus behind starting WAB?
Frank Anthony Polito: I'm not a control freak, but I do like the idea of doing things my way. With my first two books, I didn't have any say in the book cover designs ... and [for] my last book, I didn't even get to choose the title. Once I gave up on finding a "real" publisher, I decided I wouldn't let being rejected stop me from publishing my book and releasing it by April 2012.
MT: Do most publishers think the 1990s are not far enough removed for young people to be interested in a tale of that time?
Polito: I honestly think that most publishers just don't know what's "cool." They follow trends, and no one wants to take a risk. The general consensus is that young people don't want to read about any other time period than the current one. Unless it's some future "dystopian society" — whatever that means!
I think LIT '90s could teach young readers about a time period that they didn't experience firsthand. ... But most publishers just ask, "Will it make money?"
MT: Do you plan on publishing more books, your own and others, via WAB?
Polito: Initially, I thought, "I could turn this into my own little publishing business!" I know a lot of talented writers who can't catch a break — some are even from Detroit and maybe I could publish them under the WAB imprint. But, the more I worked on LIT '90s, the more challenging the process became. To branch out, I'd need to find some help.
MT: Why did you decide to set your first young adult novel in the '90s?
Polito: My first two books were set in the '80s and feature teenage characters. But my editor insisted they are not "Y.A." But Y.A. is hot right now, and writing about teens, for me, is more interesting. Everything is so important in their lives, especially movies, music, TV shows and such. ...The '90s seemed like a natural progression.
I used to think, "The '90s? Ugh!" — I was not into Nirvana in the '90s, but now I realize what a musical genius Kurt Cobain truly was. And then, remembering all the fun things me and my friends used to do in Detroit — it was a really great time. I was in college, and there was so much promise for my future. Now, well, who knows? If you told me 20 years ago that I'd be self-pubbing a novel and making no money, I'd think, "You crazy old man!" But I don't feel a year older than I did in 1994, and I'm just as determined to succeed — whatever that means!
MT: Why do you think Hazel Park provides such a good backdrop for your books?
Polito: I love HP! My friends from Hazel Park are the best. But growing up there, I felt like I never fit in. In a way, I thought I was "better" and deserved to live somewhere else — like Birmingham or Bloomfield Hills. But I now realize that Hazel Park is like that small town you see on a TV show, and I think a lot of my readers can relate to growing up in a town where maybe they've felt like an outsider. And Hazel Park has everything, if you think about it: a great diner like Country Boy, a bowling alley, bars like House of Shamrocks, and a harness raceway! How cool is that?
Christa Buchanan writes about writing for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.