So I'm doing this project where I'm rereading the books I read as a teen, some adult literary fiction, some young adult. Some books hold up, some don't. This book is a don't... well, kind of. PROM is written by Laurie Halse Anderson, of SPEAK fame, and while SPEAK held up and was still as near and dear to my heart as it was when I read it the first time, PROM... fell short. In fact, I was shocked when I checked out the release dates because PROM felt like a kind of washed-out, leading-up-to-the-polished-finale debut... but apparently it came out after
SPEAK did?! Whaaaaaaaat? I am #shook.
PROM, in case you couldn't tell from the title, is about prom. It's set in a bad neighborhood in Philadelphia, only it's like 1990s after school special "bad," so there's some references to unsafe neighborhoods, drugs, and gangs, and a couple of the kids in this book smoke, but there's no real consequences, and it feels more quirky than edgy. This is something I've noticed a couple other reviewers complaining to as well, and... yeah, that's something that went over my head as a (white) teen, but as an adult, the author's attempts to have these kids talk like they're "street" is... more than a little bit cringe at times.
Our heroine is named Ashley and I actually liked that she's a little bit of a bad girl. She cuts class, she has a no-good boyfriend, she wants to be a Beauty School Dropout. In a way, she's kind of like a Grease Pink Lady, only without the pink. The title comes into play when it is discovered that one of the math teachers embezzled all of the prom money for reasons, leaving them with less than a month to think up a solution with, like, no money. Ashley's friend, Nat, is on the prom committee and basically forces Ashley into helping her, so Ashley is like "why not have it at the gym?" Literally the whole plot is a will prom/won't prom happen? conundrum, with some slice of life thrown in for funsies.
This book was a much Bigger Deal to teen me because it really captures the fishbowl mentality of high school, as well as the importance of being seen and seeing at social events (like prom). Which I actually went to. And prom was a big deal... when I was a teenager. Now, I barely remember that night, which is kind of sad, but maybe also an allegory for the evanescence of What Matters When You Are Young. Things that seem like life and death at seventeen will be half-forgotten by the time you are thirty.
PROM is an okay book but I definitely wouldn't recommend it to older readers. I think it's in this weird book limbo, where some people are going to hate on this book for having Bad Teen Values and some people are going to hate on it for being Fake Woke, and some people are going to hate on it for being Not As Good As Speak, and some people are going to hate on it because it comes across as more than a little vapid. I personally thought it was fun but some nostalgia was definitely tying into that, and it doesn't really hold up for an adult reader, imo, even though I also wouldn't consider it a bust.
For more Baby Nenia reads, check out my literary sad girl canon project!
2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars