The Pursuit of Cool, debut novel by Robb Skidmore, is that book that reminds you, perfectly, that everyone was as screwed up and off kilter as you were as a young adult. Set against a fabulous soundtrack from the 1980’s, The Pursuit of Cool follows Lance Rally through his tumultuous college years.

From the book’s summary, “Lance comes from a super-achieving family and is intent on being a big success. But he is also an inept, hopeless romantic, obsessed with pop culture, and prone to distraction. Friendships with a punk rocker and a subversive scholar challenge his worldview, and relationships with a beautiful psych major and a feisty goth girl change him. This coming-of-age journey is a funny and emotional ride through album covers, dance techniques, all-nighter revelations, and corporate internships gone bad. The story comes alive with music and movies which give Lance solace as he questions beliefs and his heart gets crushed. He tries to capture that illusive quality, that magic of youth, the essence that is “cool.””

Reading this book, I often felt I was spying on Lance, somehow privy to his innermost thoughts.  Skidmore paints an awkward young man who just wants to fit in, whose bursts of confidence sometimes make him feel he is more than he actually is. At the same time, Lance is sympathetic, because he is everyone.  He makes some bad decisions, he makes a fool of himself, he dreams big.

In fact, outside the excellent sonic backdrop Skidmore provides, Lance’s big dreams were my favorite part of the book.  There’s a nostalgic quality to those dreams for anyone who’s been to college. I remember thinking in university that we were definitely thinking the deep thoughts, changing the world in our late night study sessions; solving world crises over hash browns and grits after partying at fraternity court.  And I remember the years before that, when I thought college would be deep thoughts and good parties and intellectual discussions all around.  The Pursuit of Cool centers the reader right in that hopeful era of high expectations, and jaded reality.

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, so I have to applaud Skidmore’s use of music throughout the story. From the Clash to Joy Division, to Bauhaus, so much of the music I was too young to appreciate at the time but that I eventually discovered. It  provides the perfect setting to Lance’s experience, because if you’ve ever listened to these bands (and this is not an exhaustive list) you remember realizing how a song, a band, an album could indeed change your life.

At 410 pages, The Pursuit of Cool wasn’t a fast read for me, but it was engrossing.  I felt like I was on this journey with Lance, and I remember thinking “Wow! It was like this for everyone.  I wasn’t the only one struggling to find my niche.”  Because when you’re that age, it seems like everyone has it easier than you- you’re the only awkward one, pursuing the cool everyone else seems to have found effortlessly.

A great debut, and I can’t wait to read more from Robb Skidmore.