Mixtape Hyperborea
by Adem Luz Rienspects
(Self-published, 2023)

It’s 2007.

Another school year. The air has a nice breeze to it. You and your boys pass the time by passing joints. Sometimes you catch an open mic night, and sometimes you sneak into watch 8 Mile. Since you’re a teenager, the most you can do on a Saturday night is crash a house party and make out with an unnamed girl from a neighboring public school. You report this back to your friends, who still insist on calling you “gay.”  

And music. You cannot forget the music. It is pervasive—a low hum that touches every corner of your existence. Your life’s mixtape is on-hand and always ready for any occasion. Need to skip class to watch the ducks down at the local park? There’s a song for that. Have to masturbate in the shower at two a.m. while on a school field trip? Yes, there’s a tune for that too.

This is your Hyperborea—a mythical place that all men dream of after the fact. A more common refrain is to call it mere nostalgia. Like Hyperborea, which was considered the high civilization of the far north, “nostalgia” is a Greek word. Its roots—nostos (return) and algos (pain)—are meant to invoke how those infected with nostalgia suffer for their longing. True nostalgia is like a knife cutting into your guts. You want so badly to go back, but you can never go back, so you let the memory-ghosts haunt you into madness. Everything brings you back to what once was—music, photographs, words left behind in forgotten diaries. Nostalgia never relents. Adem Luz Rienspects’ highly acclaimed novel Mixtape Hyperborea is about nostalgia.

But this is not a saccharine testament. There is no weepy “I just want to go back, bros!” here. More to the point, Mixtape Hyperborea, which is set on the campus of Golden Sierra Preparatory Academy somewhere between California and Washington, D.C., was not written by an author looking to relive his bygone glory days. As he made clear during an interview with our good friends at Tooky’s Mag, Rienspects was not a high school senior during the 2007-2008 semester. Thus, for him, the novel is a sort of pseudo-history that recounts what it must have felt like to have been eighteen during that epoch. It is less direct longing and more about the vibes (as the kids say).

Mixtape Hyperborea is mostly told from the perspective of I. I has an incisive eye. In Chapter 11, entitled “Crayola Pollock,” I examines the Biology classroom around him. Each student is studied like a specimen. The lower-end of the hierarchy is investigated first. Norman Wilkins is a zero sport athlete who “has managed to go from sixth grade to the twelfth without making a single friend.” Norman is a nonentity. The narrator sees this “lone wolf” as he sits alone at lunch with his bad skin and greasy hair. Next to Norman is Sandy Ashton, a three sport athlete that I characterizes as someone who is “friends with everyone, but also no one at the same time.” Her loneliness is different from Norman’s, as the tall and lanky boy is completely isolated, while Sandy is a social butterfly incapable of finding or forming a tight friend circle. Norman and Sandy are the two diametrically opposed poles of the classroom who nevertheless wind up alone at the end of the day. Near the end of the novel, the narrator becomes a seer. He looks at the graduating class that he belongs to and states:

Some will drop out of college and start selling real estate, some will work at Toyota, then quit Toyota to become a full-time electrician.

Some will waitress at a really fancy restaurant, then cheat on their boyfriend with their shift manager.

Some will move to Korea for a year.

Some will continue to keep it a secret that they got pregnant two months ago at Gloria’s house party and deliver the baby about six months after graduation. After delivering the baby, some will surprise everyone running an enormously successful online business.

Golden Sierra may be a top-of-the-line private school, but its students wind up in the same messy pool as their public school contemporaries. The narrator knows this and sums it all up by saying that everyone will see these formative years as “fondly reflective.” This is the ethereal core of the novel. It is as shoegaze as its soundtrack (more on that in a minute), i.e., it is about I and others staring into themselves whilst living in the hectic moments of Now.

Mixtape Hyperborea is an intelligent and wistful novel. It is also hilarious. The longest chapter, called “The Sleepover,” recounts the wild and free exploits of I and his coterie of teenage goons. There’s the pudgy Hispanic Josh, who always reminds the narrator of his latent homosexuality; T.J. and his cousin, Jack Moriarty; and Chang. The sleepover begins as a harmless trip to see the family-friendly film, Kangaroo Jack. What it becomes is something different. The boys ditch the animated film for Eminem’s biopic. Later, they sneak out to enjoy Waffle House before collectively masturbating to a skin flick called A Midsummer Night’s Cream.

The humor here is raw and raunchy. Chang’s Chinese heritage is ruthlessly mocked by his friends, especially Josh, who delights in doing an exaggerated Asian accent (“I’m not arrowed to see 8 Mire…”). Sex is often the setup and the punchline. For instance, in one of the few chapters that focuses on the failing marriage of the Berry family, the tissue residue left behind on Will Berry’s penis following a wank session is dubbed “masturbatory shrapnel.” Mixtape Hyperborea is as much a cooming-of-age sex comedy as it is a Bildungsroman. It is also a living reflection of what has been lost.

The book’s setting is oh-so important. 2007-2008 was the final moment when physical mixtapes (or mixed CDs) made sense. And given that this book has a soundtrack that requires the reader to listen to Slowdive and Boards of Canada, it is vital that all sensory experiences be in harmony. Enjoying both in physical form is necessary for peak performance. Mixtape Hyperborea also swims in a type of blunt humor that is verboten in polite society and has been since around 2011. This novel is a snapshot of what it was like to grow up as a young man before humanity’s complete conquest by the new age of cyborgs.

Cyborgs are half-human, half-AI engines that have bifurcated brains. One brain rests within the skull. The other has been outsourced to a cellphone or a digital footprint. The cyborgs do not see a disconnect between who they are in the flesh and who they are online. Only oldheads know that the world was not always like this. Mixtape Hyperborea hints at the forthcoming dystopia in the 26th chapter. Here, during a comedian’s gonzo set, high school senior Micky freaks out when he is filmed for a YouTube video. “Because fucking, it’s out there forever…” he explains to his friends. They comfort him by saying nobody wants to watch random videos on the Internet anyway. Micky knows the truth, and by extension so does Mr. Rienspects. The truth is that Mixtape Hyperborea could never be made about high school seniors in 2023. Too much of life is lived online. Too much is streamed, and all the dumb things we did back in Hyperborea now get recorded and used against us for eternity. RIP, bozo.

Rienspects’s ode to youth is a lot of things all at once. It is metaphysical and mystical. It is also crass and guttural. It is brilliant and bawdy. Fundamentally, it is a great (not good) novel that manages to convey so much without having a discernible plot. It is a fictional artifact, a recording of one unimportant period of time in the life of a nobody. It is a universal story in that way. Rienspects captures the fleeting vibrations of life as it is lived. His writing hand is so deft that he can turn a shared inside joke into a commentary on why some people just have stupid faces. He is also a master of dialogue. The teen boys in Mixtape Hyperborea speak just like my friends did back when I was in high school in the early 2000s. Such minor bursts of nostalgia were worth the shipping cost alone.

Mixtape Hyperborea is as good as it gets. This is a fast-paced and somewhat light read that nevertheless contains multitudes. This is a book about an age that no longer exists and can never exist again. It is about young men entering into the adult world at precisely the moment when one major part of it (the housing market) imploded. More than anything else, Mixtape Hyperborea is about this crazy thing called life. We make music to soothe our savage natures, and we crack jokes to cover the tears. But through it all we live and try to make sense of things that are too aesthetic for pitiable words.

Click here to buy Mixtape Hyperborea.