When Anne Helen Petersen wrote an article about millennial burnout for BuzzFeed in early 2019, readers responded in droves--mostly with a resounding YES--and the article went viral. Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation is Petersen's brilliantly researched, thoroughly engaging, expanded exploration of how evolving culture and policy have shaped the opportunities and precarity of many millennials' lives.
A senior culture writer for BuzzFeed, Petersen (Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud) makes her case in clear, catchy prose. Also a scholar of media studies, she seamlessly stitches sociohistorical and economic theory alongside frank interviews with millennials from diverse backgrounds, offering blistering analysis throughout. Insightful in the vein of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique and powerful in the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Petersen's Can't Even manages to engross and infuriate while still entertain: "[Burnout] isn't a personal problem. It's a societal one--and it will not be cured by productivity apps, or a bullet journal, or face mask skin treatments, or overnight f***ing oats."
Petersen repeats throughout: "It doesn't have to be this way." She doesn't claim any panaceas (especially via breakfast hacks), instead turning a mirror and fluorescent light on a generation and a culture reckoning with where and how they assign value, and a glimpse at their trajectory. It's bleak. But Petersen makes a critical case for better understanding the scope and structures of these problems--so that people can start doing something about them before they're too burned out. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer