Though our January #ReadwithMC pick ushers in the new year of 2024, most of Kate Kennedy’s One In a Millennial: On Friendships, Feelings, Fangirls, and Fitting In compels us to look backward to look forward. In this book, Kennedy speaks to and on behalf of the millennial generation, encapsulating in 336 pages what it was (and is) like to grow up as a woman born between the years of 1981 to 1996 (and, even more granularly, those born in the mid- to late 1980s). Anyone can relate to something in this book, but if you know what Cucumber Melon is, debated fiercely over NSYNC versus Backstreet Boys, went to see teen movies in theaters like She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Never Been Kissed on various Fridays in 1999—Kennedy is speaking directly to you. Yes, if you’re not a millennial, you’ll get something from this book, too—but if you are a millennial, you’ll find in Kennedy a mirror back to yourself.
Kennedy looks at the experience of being a millennial largely through the lens of pop culture, exploring the millennial zeitgeist and the life lessons learned (for better and for worse) of being a member of this generation. Kennedy has a stronghold on pop culture; she’s a pop culture commentator for a living and hosts the popular millennial-focused podcast “Be There In Five.” Through her own lived experience as a member of this generation—Kennedy was born in 1987—she was able to write a memoir that relates to a wide swath of us, and if you’re roughly her age, it’s stark how very seen and very exposed you feel throughout the pages. How does she know? I found myself asking. I don’t even know her, and yet, she gets it.
Millennials are a generation who, during childhood, had an expectation of what life would look like; the advent of the internet in the 1990s changed the rulebook entirely. We had “especially disproportionate expectations relative to our realities,” Kennedy writes. “When our parents told us we could be anything we wanted, it was within the confines of what reality looked like in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, but the rules changed. For example, when you’re told you need to get a college degree to get a job and become financially stable, only for the job market to change and the college degree to become the thing making you financially unstable, it’s a hard adjustment that can affect the rest of your life.”
This generation graduated college during the Great Recession; many married and had children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most are still paying off crippling student loan debt, up against an unwinnable battle when it comes to the housing market, and are caught in the middle of Gen X on one side (who grew up entirely without the internet) and Gen Z on the other (who don’t remember life without it). “Coming of age during the information age made for a particularly confusing early adulthood,” Kennedy writes. “We planned our lives without a lot of information, making key life decisions more grounded in traditions, but are now in a world that’s inundated with information, and, therefore, surrounded by opportunities that didn’t exist when we were planning our dreams.”
Yet to even “complain” about such confusion is as on brand for a millennial as it gets: “To make matters worse, it’s hard to defend ourselves, because the act of not taking criticism well can be easily reduced to whiny millennial behavior,” Kennedy writes. Yep.
"One In a Millennial: On Friendship, Feelings, Fangirls, and Fitting In" by Kate Kennedy
As we enter middle age—where we’re still a bit too young to fully be taken seriously by those older than us, yet are deemed decidedly not cool by those younger than us—many are experiencing what Kennedy calls the millennial paradox, where we’re torn between the traditional values we had growing up and the modern opportunities that are here now. Do we really want to get married, have 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence? Or is that just what we were raised to think we want? “Somewhere in between the pursuit of passion and the desire for respect and stability, you’ll likely find a lost millennial, recently hit square in the head with thoughts about how they were raised to feel like one in a million, who never thought in a million years they’d find themselves here, in many ways, back at square one,” she writes.
Kennedy is deftly able to put words to lives halfway lived, going deep, deep, deep at points but then rebounding into the shallow through her prose. (The numerous pop culture references are fun and frothy and balance and offset the sticky life experiences this generation has faced.) Feeling seen is a mark of good writing, and Kennedy is able to accomplish the task of making us feel less alone through our shared, yet different, experiences as being a part of this complicated generation. We knew Kennedy’s literal voice through her podcast; on the page, we hear her voice come through loud and clear in every word. In just 336 pages, Kennedy somehow became the voice of a generation—and we are the better for it. LYLAS, Kate.
Quotes from the book are excerpted from One in a Millennial: On Friendship, Feelings, Fangirls, and Fitting In by Kate Kennedy. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.