CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 32. . . .April 22, 2011
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2011.
280 pp., hardcover, $19.00.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Beth Maddigan.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
There's a flash of pale dresses in front of me, two girls rushing into the road. My heart stops. I slam on the brakes.
Wrenching open the door, I struggle out of my seat belt and rush around the front of the car. A faint alarm is wailing somewhere, but we're all alone in the far end of the lot, next to a cluster of huge trash cans and empty boxes.
"Oh, God, did I hit you?" I gasp for breath, looking in horror at the girl collapsed in a tangle of tanned limbs and white silk on the asphalt. "Oh God! I wasn't going fast, but you came out of nowhere and ---"
"It's OK!" the other girl pulls her friend up. "You didn't hit us, she tripped. That's what you get for wearing those freaking ridiculous heels," she adds with a note of disdain.
"You were the one yanking my arm!"
"Yeah, well, when I say run, I don't mean that beauty-pageant strut of yours!"
As I look back and forth between them, my panic gradually subsides. Then I realize who they are.
Post-prom antics are the stuff of headlines. Sleepless nights for parents and long-awaited parties and celebrations for students. If their parents knew what this trio of girls decides to do after the East Midlands High prom, they would lose a lot more than sleep. The unlikely threesome are the somewhat stereotypical characters you might find in a John Huges movie: Bliss Merino is the popular girl with a heart; Jolene Nelson is the bad girl with dreams; and Meg Rose Zukerman is the shy geek with more to offer. They end up thrown together after each of them begins her prom with situations more nightmarish than dream-like. Together for a long night of adventures, the girls evolve in ways no one could have predicted in the opening chapters.
McDonald scored hits with her other novels, Boys, Bears and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots and Sophomore Switch. Fans of those novels will appreciate The Anti-prom because, true-to-form, McDonald's characters are multi-dimensional, and their stories evolve in her well-written, subtle style. The three-person narrative allows the reader a glimpse into each girl's perspective as they struggle, bargain and brainstorm through their series of schemes. Readers learn that Bliss, Joelene and Meg are much more than the iconic high-school roles they portray.
With action that spans less than 24 hours, the story moves quickly through a series of teen antics focused on revenge against a cheating boyfriend and an absentee father. The plot is fast-paced with daring stunts such as boldly tricking a fair-weather friend's mother into allowing them to steal a diary and breaking into and out of a college dorm…twice! However, when the stakes get higher and the girls break into a secure office building, the plot loses some believability. McDonald writes a sophisticated ruse, but when she gives intelligent Meg the role of foiling the guard, after Joelene has broken a window and caused a loud crash, the internal consistency of the plot clashes with the characterization. Despite the solid storytelling, this reader found it hard to believe the security guard on patrol never found a smashed office window and called the police to report strange going-ons with a girl in a prom dress claiming to be present to feed the fish.
Another difficulty for this 280 page novel is that it takes a very long time within the quick plot to get to know the characters. Interest may wane in the first half of the book, but the second half is worth the persistence. Eventually, the characters are revealed as whole young women, and their antics are less important than the final decisions they make. It is those decisions that give The Anti-prom a wholly satisfying, through certainly not fairytale, ending.
Beth Maddigan is a children's librarian and instructor in St. John's, NL.
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