Book Review: “Jeneration X”

I like Jen Lancaster. There, I said it. She’s not Dostoyevsky, we don’t see eye to eye politically and there’s no way I’d willingly move to the Chicago suburbs. But she’s neurotic and owns her quirks without being all “tee hee! I’m quirky, y’all!” Also, we shared a magical evening back when her second book was released. (And by “magical evening” I mean “I got drunk with her and her husband Fletch while they gave me life advice and bought me a prime rib sandwich.” Magical.)

This year, I wrote to Penguin and begged for Jeneration X. And on a stressful Friday, I came home and found my wish granted.

Trust me, Jen really does write the way she talks. And in Jeneration X, she’s talking about adulthood. She and Fletch are buying a house, setting up life insurance and adopting yet another puppy. Jen’s going to operas, ordering Thai and outsourcing her housecleaning. Of course, she’s also getting her picture taken with a monkey, going to Glee concerts and spying on her neighbors. She acquires the very adult hobby of antiquing, but takes extra pleasure in beating the pants off fellow hobbyists in eBay auctions. Hey, growing up is a process, and Jen’s is especially hilarious.

I know not everyone is a fan of Jen’s narrative voice and penchant for snark. If you didn’t like her other books, Jeneration X isn’t going to convert you. For Jen fans, I’d caution that Jeneration X is more a collection of essays (i.e. Bright Lights, Big Ass) than a plot-driven quest (Bitter is the New Black, Such a Pretty Fat, My Fair Lazy). Adulthood is the theme, not necessarily the end result.

That said, if we were in high school and Jen asked me to sign her yearbook, I’d scribble: “Stay sweet! Don’t change!” Only in this case, it’s not the well-worn epithet used by teenage girls who don’t really know (or like) one another. Because for all her loud buffoonery, there’s something very sweet about Jen. (Footnote: three years after our boozy evening, I ran into her at another author’s event and she screamed, hugged me and proceeded to grill me about the very things we’d talked about while wasted. Very sweet, indeed.) Whether she’s reveling in the trashy pleasure of Secret Life of the American Teenager or downing a sea urchin to get a mortgage, Jen’s true to herself. And I hope that never changes.

Jeneration X will be available in print and ebook May 1. For more about Jen, visit

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By The Unprofessional Critic

Lauren Whalen is a freelance writer living in Chicago. She reviews plays for Chicago Theater Beat ( and talks about movies on The Film Yap ( Lauren's young adult novel is represented by Chalberg & Sussman Literary Agency. Say hi to her at maybeimamazed02(at)gmail(dot)com. (Photo by Greg Inda)

4 replies on “Book Review: “Jeneration X””

It’s very essay-like. This is a memoir, as are most of her books except for last year’s If You Were Here. Some of her memoirs have more of a plot thread (losing her job, trying to get healthy, doing cultural stuff, etc.) and some are more a collection of essays with a common theme (surviving the city, coming of age). This is more the latter.

I tried with her. I really did. I dutifully read Bitter is the New Black for book club. I tried Such a Pretty Fat. I think I even checked our Bright Lights, Big Ass and I just don’t like her. I mean, I like other people in the same vein (Laurie Notaro) but Lancaster actually rubs me the wrong way.  Is this a ‘if you don’t like her other stuff you won’t like this’ kind of book or a ‘give her a try again’ book?

Slay, I get that. She’s definitely not for everyone. I find more than anything, memoirs are very…personal, if that makes sense? What one reader loves, another will find EXTREMELY off-putting. I just read a memoir on NetGalley that made me want to throw my Nook against the wall, yet I really loved Diablo Cody’s memoir. I guess that’s kind of the case with all genres, but I feel memoirs are really specific to each reader.

This is definitely vintage Jen, so if you haven’t liked her other stuff I would say maybe give this a shot by reading the first few pages. Have you read her novel? That might be a better choice.

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