December 03, 2020


Totally ’90s Coloring Book. By Christina Haberkern. Plume. $14.

     This is, like, totally ’90s, so totally that if you were not a teenager in that decade (as Christina Haberkern was), the book will make no sense whatsoever. So this book is for those born toward the end of Generation X (usually defined as 1965-80) and the first part of the Millennial cohort (1981-96). More specifically, it is for people (of any age) who are saturated with pop culture of the 1990s – people who are intimately familiar (in their imagination) with Clarissa Darling, Blossom Russo, Hilary Banks, Kelly Kapowski, Steve Urkel, Screech and so forth, long-gone pop icons one and all, imaginary figures (or real people filling imaginary roles) who, for a time, had a strong influence on very specific people, definitely including Haberkern.

     The coloring part of this book is straightforward, but nobody is going to buy it for that purpose alone. It is strictly for people who, with a straight face and without hesitation, can follow along when Haberkern writes, “Thanks to Lisa Frank and the bright colors of the ’90s, everyone in school was envious of whoever had the newest Trapper Keeper.” Or: “While the decade gave us some unfortunate looks, like flower bucket hats, side ponies, and snap bracelets, Cher [Horowitz of Clueless] gifted us with timeless looks that will always be peak style goals.” Hmm. “Timeless?” Time-bound, really – the whole point of this book is to give pop-culture fans of a certain age a chance to indulge their coloring prowess (or lack thereof) on page after page of characters and objects that are presumably dear to the heart of…well, of pop-culture fans of a certain age.

     About those snap bracelets, for example: there is a page of them to color, with the words “OH SNAP!!!” on a bracelet right in the middle – being worn by someone who also wears a yin/yang ring and a smiley-face one. There are plenty of other word-focused pages, too: “LET’S BOUNCE” in the center of a whole page of smiley faces; “LIKE, TOTALLY!” totally dominating a page that otherwise contains just a few geometric shapes; “Talk to the Hand” on a page with more geometric shapes plus, of course, a hand.

     Also here is a page showing a huge, clunky satellite phone; one with the words “always be my BABY” amid stylized flowers; and one very funny one (among the few that could perhaps reach beyond the core audience) showing an old-fashioned computer, complete with floppy-disc drive and appropriate toy mascots on its horizontal CPU, with a screen saying “Dial-Up Internet Connection” and word balloons showing envelopes and saying “You’ve Got Mail!” The visceral excitement of that scene may escape anyone who did not live a teenage life containing something like it, but the primitive nature of the whole thing (by the standards of a 21st century now two decades old) turns the page into an amusing time capsule – whose specifics may escape many people, but whose generally old-fashioned look is clear.

     Most pages here, though, are strictly for the target age group: one is filled with a dozen platform shoes (high-platform shoes), another with troll dolls (one of which is also seen atop the old-style computer on the “dial-up” page), another with a fancy roller blade (just one) and the word “Xtreme.” Other pages highlight slang of the time: “THAT’S MY NAME, DON’T WEAR IT OUT,” for example, and “BOO YAH!” Everything is drawn in black-and-white outlines and can be colored, as Haberkern says, with pretty much anything: “crayons, markers, gel pens, or whatever you have!” There are plenty of places to make your own “memories of the ’90s” pictures and test your drawing implements, too: in addition to a single “Test Page” toward the back of the book, there are eight other totally blank pages (well, four pages; eight sides). And if that seems a trifle, umm, chintzy in a thin $14 book, you can simply, as one page strongly suggests, “TAKE A CHILL PILL” and accept this book for what it is, for those to whom it is designed to appeal. If you are not one of them, then, as another page strongly suggests, “WHATEVER.”

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