The first time I heard the phrase, "quarter-life crisis," I (internally) rolled my eyes. I was 21, and one of my best friends was turning 22. "Marie, I'm freaking out. I don't know what I'm doing with my life, and I'm just a total mess. I think I'm having a quarter-life crisis."
That's a little dramatic, I thought. You're young and on the verge of a college degree, you've got a great family and lots of friends, and on top of that, you're insanely gorgeous... What's there to worry about? Less than a year later, I understood. I graduated college with honors... and moved into my parents' basement. I was applying for every job within reach and masochistically keeping a tally of all the ones I didn't get. I had my heart broken by someone equally young and aimless, and as much as it was probably a great thing that I was no longer "sneaking" back into my parents' house at 5 am, I mostly felt like a hollow stereotype of a Sad Single Person. I had this picture in my mind of my Post-Grad Dream Life, but the image got fuzzier as anxiety and apparent failures piled up. I learned empathy the hard way; the struggle is real, and so is the quarter-life crisis.
Given the level of media attention (and criticism, and championing) it's received, remaining unaware of a little book called Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, creator, writer, and star of the HBO series "Girls," would be difficult. While I have mixed feelings about some of Lena's creative endeavors and a few of the messages in this book in particular (a controversy I'm going to sidestep here), what I do love about her is her willingness to embrace imperfection and the messiness of being young. She's essentially the poster-child of the quarter-life crisis, and I think that rocks. Reading her book reminded me not only of the flailing, frantic twentysomething woman I was/sometimes still am, but also of the healing power of books. When you're going through something cruddy, books are the best. Sometimes you don't want to talk, you don't want to analyze your life or apply for One. More. Job. You just want to lose yourself in a book that gets you. And with that, Dear Reader, I give you four books to help you through your quarter-life crisis.
This one is like the picture-book counterpart to Dunham's essay collection - part illustrative guide, part self-aware/self-deprecating humor. Young understands that the "best-case scenario" for twentysomething life is that it resembles a Beyoncé song (yes, she quotes "Party"), but that some days, "I woke up like dis" equals "I woke up surrounded by potato chip crumbs." And that's okay, too. You'll walk away from this book feeling less alone in the #hotmess status of your life -- and hopefully see the humor (and potential) in it.
I was going to include Strayed's well-known memoir Wild, in which she recounts her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and shows her quarter-life crisis who's boss, but then I figured you've probably already read it, if not for its own sake then in preparation for the recently-released movie adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon. So instead, I give you Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of columns from Strayed's run as the then-anonymous advice columnist Sugar on The Rumpus. You know when you're engrossed in a book, and you land on a truth bomb - a phrase that explains a facet of life so acutely that you feel your brain cells rearranging to make space for it? Well, there's one of those on every page. You're welcome.
I'll admit, when I first came across this book, I was skeptical - the hashtag in the title seemed a bit gimmicky (#sorrynotsorry). But after I read a number of recommendations for it, including on (ahem) The Huffington Post and in Elle, I knew I had to give it a shot. And thank goodness! In #GIRLBOSS, Sophia Amoruso, founder of online retailer Nasty Gal, perfectly mixes her own how-I-got-started story with straight-up advice, and the result is at once grounded and inspirational. Basically, Amoruso went from being a hard-to-pin-down twentysomething with an erratic life (sound familiar?) to having the dream job she never saw coming. If anyone can help you through your quarter-life crisis, it's the head #GIRLBOSS herself, Amoruso.
I have no shame in my (reality TV) game. For whatever reason, at the end of a long day, all I want is to doze off to the sounds of Kim and Kourtney arguing over the location of North West's first birthday party. If there was ever a time to indulge a desire for reality-TV escapism, it's in the throes of a quarter-life crisis. And so, I bring you this novel by reality-TV vet Lauren Conrad -- formerly "L.C." of MTV's "Laguna Beach" and "The Hills." It tells the story of Jane, a 19-year-old going through her own quarter-life crisis with the help (and hindrance) of the reality show producers that want to script her life, not to mention the band of castmates with mixed intentions that surround her. Go ahead, eat the candy... You know you're craving it.