Dolly Alderton knows what she's talking about when it comes to adulthood—or at least what we've come to consider #adulting. Everything I Know About Love is a collection of diary entries, recipes, anecdotes, and ironic reflections of what she learned about parties, dates, work, life, and—most importantly—love in her adolescence and early twenties.
Alderton's adventures and misadventures strike a chord with her generation, from the strategies for getting the attention of your crush on MSN Messenger, the teenage gossip that circulated on the platform, and the ridiculous behavior by boys and—a few years later—by men. Alderton shares her personal journey of growing up and coming to terms with adulthood. She talks about the challenges of financial instability, relationship issues, and mental health, emphasizing the importance of building a strong support network to navigate these challenges. Common anxieties abound.
The portrait of young adulthood that Alderton paints is instantly recognizable for those who’ve found themselves in the those same trenches, with its candid descriptions of eating disorders, bad relationships, and professional triumphs and failures.
On top of that, she captures the sentiment of nostalgia for a time that has passed, be it the 2000s of Dolly's adolescence or the 2010s and its quintessential dresses from the Kate Moss for TopShop collection™. The book is an ode to the ephemeral freedom captured by friendships between twenty–somethings. Alderton is caught in the full-speed hedonistic pursuit of experiences and fleeting moments. In some regard, she is a caricature of an adult, proclaiming, “Dear friends who I normally only ever get completely leathered with, I’d love to have you round to witness my attempt at behaving like an adult.”
While Everything I Know About Love recounts Alderton's relatable musings of her formative years, her narrative packages adulthood in a cellophane of romanticism, making it almost fiction–like. On the other hand, Kiley Reid’s fictional novel, Such a Fun Age, brings a real depth to the complexities of adulting through the lives of its two main characters, Emira and Alix. Emira, a young Black woman, is struggling to find her place in the world and make ends meet. Despite her college degree, she feels lost and uncertain about her future. Alix, a white woman and successful blogger, is grappling with her own insecurities and the challenges of balancing work and family.
In Reid's novel, the complexities of race, class, and privilege are woven into a tapestry of human experience. Through the lives of her characters, she delves into the heart of what it means to be an adult in a world where systemic issues can shape one's opportunities and experiences in very different ways. Emira even admits, "I think all adults have moments where they feel like they're faking it." Amongst Reid's complex mosaic of adulthood, there exist these nuggets of relatability for all readers.
Alderton's reflection highlights the importance of female friendships—women are able to see themselves in one another's experiences, building an intimate feeling of recognition and support. On the flip side, Reid's Such a Fun Age brings depth to those depictions, examining how complicated dynamics of power and privilege can warp these relationships. Beyond Alderton's personal reflection on her 20s, there are a multitude of other adulting experiences that interface with the reality of race, class, and gender struggles. Subsequently, Reid seems to poignantly answer this question of what happens when our romanticized perceptions of adulthood are soured by reality. It is in Reid's fictional accounts that we might find a more authentic mirror of reality and adulthood.
We turn to literature to both see ourselves reflected on the page and to lose ourselves in a reality foreign to our own. Ultimately, Alderton and Reid's accounts of adulthood interact with one another, providing alternate perspectives on adulthood and reminding readers that the human experience is not a monolith. Both authors emphasize the importance of self-reflection and personal growth as one navigates adulthood, which, they insist, is a journey, rather than a destination. Both Reid and Alderton acknowledge that growing up and coming to terms with adulthood is a process that involves both joy and struggles, and ultimately, there's no "right way" to do it.