April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Courtship, Corsages, and Kisses—It’s Prom!

One of the last big moments in many teens’ high school careers, the prom occupies a near legendary status in pop culture. It’s where the gorgeous swan emerges, where true love blossoms, where hearts are broken, where elaborate dance routines take place; on occasion, it’s even been the site of horror and gore. It still reigns supreme: each of these recent titles gives this classic ritual a creative treatment, from an interstellar space adventure to a morbidly funny thriller.

promgoerinterstellarWhen you’re officially the dorkiest kid in school (voted “Most Awkward” and cursed with a “gangly and almost pipe-cleanerish body”) and you’re invited to the prom by the gorgeous love of your life, you’ll go to great lengths to make it there—yes, including hitching a ride into space to rescue your date after she’s abducted by aliens. So begins Chris McCoy’s The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion (Knopf, 2015; Gr 8 Up), a madcap, whirlwind romp of a space adventure.

Desperately seeking Sophie, Bennett Bardo tags along on a tour bus with once-popular interstellar music group the Perfectly Reasonable as they attempt to maneuver their way back into the public eye (or at least work their way up from their ranking of one billion sixteenth most popular group, according to Universal Beat). Assisting Bennett in his quest is the unlikely crew consisting of Skark, a cadaverously thin, demandingly divalike frontman with the stage presence and fashion sense of David Bowie mixed with the hard-living style of Keith Richards; charismatic bassist Cad, an aptly named fellow earthling and ladies’ man extraordinaire; and drummer Driver, who just so happens to hail from the same planet as Sophie’s kidnappers.

McCoy is a master parodist who artfully plays with genre tropes in order to skewer everything and anything, from reality TV to rock ‘n roll clichés to the college admissions process. Following in the tradition of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, McCoy displays a knack for crafting riotously funny characters, dialogue, and situations. This hip, quirky offering is the ideal offering for teens who’d rather attend the anti-prom than be crowned King or Queen.

dentonlittledeathdateNot everyone’s quite so jazzed about the prom. Denton Little’s got another event lined up that takes priority: his own death. Like almost everyone in the futuristic society of Lance Rubin’s Denton Little’s Death Date (Knopf, 2015; Gr 9 Up), Denton has long known the exact date of his demise, which happens to fall on the day of his senior prom. For him, the week before prom doesn’t involve renting a limo or buying a corsage; instead, the surprisingly sanguine teen attends his own funeral (a graduation/Sweet Sixteen–type extravaganza, complete with eulogies galore and a DJ-hosted dance) and his Sitting (where friends and family of the soon-to-be-deceased gather to await the big moment together).

But something’s up: there’s an odd red rash traveling up and down Denton’s body, he’s contacted by a strange man who claims to have known his late mother, and he’s dogged by an oddly persistent police officer. Plus, he’s coping with relationship woes (“It’s complicated” doesn’t begin to cover it). Confused, Denton decides to spend his final night—where else?—connecting with classmates at the prom.

Humor light, dark, and pitch-black abounds, from the nutty musings of Denton’s wise fool BFF Paolo to Denton’s own thought processes (“I thought I could hang myself, but how? The one time I’d tried to hang a picture, it took me two hours.”). Threaded throughout is insightful commentary on the nature of death and societal rituals; there are striking similarities in the ways Denton views the various conventional (and unconventional) milestones he approaches, from his loss of virginity and prom to his Sitting and funeral. This is an entertaining and thought-provoking genre mashup that blends occasionally raunchy high school comedy and conspiracy theory–esque sci-fi thriller: think William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s novel Logan’s Run (later film) meets Adam Herz’s film American Pie.

promposalRounding out the titles is Rhonda Helms’s Promposal (S. & S., 2015; Gr 7 Up), a straightforward romance, complete with misunderstandings, yearnings, and happy endings all around. Using the recent trend of the promposal (or a bells-and-whistles approach to asking a date to the prom, usually in public and often filmed for social media), this light and frothy tale is told from the alternating perspectives of Camilla, who’s crushing on Benjamin but has reluctantly accepted a televised promposal from Zach out of pity, and her best friend Joshua, who finds himself agreeing to help the object of his longtime friend and unrequited love, Ethan, devise the perfect promposal for heartthrob Noah. Love is all around them, as Camilla and Joshua witness their classmates dealing with similar woes, from the embarrassment of a promposal gone horribly wrong to the fallout after a guy commits the cardinal sin of assuming his girlfriend will accompany him to the dance without formally inviting her.

Though the focus here is on dating and romance, the friendship between Camilla and Joshua, who cushion each other through the turmoil of love, is well developed, and readers will root for both adolescents, whose habits of overanalyzing every interaction with their beloved are endearingly realistic and intensely relatable. There’s just enough angst to keep things interesting, but Helms doesn’t weigh down this airy title with too much drama. This sweet, irony-free outing is perfect for teens looking for vicarious romantic thrills.

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Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.