Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 215
For a book whose cover art and title scream ‘chick lit!,’ Prom is surprisingly dark at times. Well, maybe it’s not so surprising if you’re familiar with the work of Laurie Halse Anderson, whose famous for her gritty subject matter and incisive portrayals of the lives of teenage girls. Prom isn’t Speak-level intense, but it’s not afraid to go into more serious territory than you’d expect.
The main character, Ashley Hannigan, is a not particularly smart, not particularly studious teenager from a poor family. She cares a lot about her friends but for the most part she’s an all-around underachiever. Ashley’s friend Natalia is obsessed with going to prom, but Ashley doesn’t care about it at all. She doesn’t see the point of her and her deadbeat boyfriend TJ dressing up and going crazy over a flashy, one-time event.
When their teacher absconds with the prom money, though, Ashley decides to help Natalia start a fundraiser and try to give their classmates the experience they’ve been waiting for. Helping Natalia and some other girls raise money for the prom unexpectedly leads to Ashley beginning to seriously consider her own future.
I didn’t find Ashley to be a particularly likable character, but I did appreciate that she wasn’t your ‘average’ YA heroine. Like I said, she’s not all that smart or bookish and she seems like she would run more with the popular crowd. She’s also DEFINITELY not PC (this book wouldn’t get published today.)
She is, however, a very realistic character with a rough-around-the-edges and authentic voice. You can totally imagine that you’re reading the unfiltered account of a real teenager. The adult character, on the other hand, felt over-the-top and downright cartoonish at times, especially Ashley’s mom.
The story also gets increasingly implausible towards the end, with Ashley basically sneaking into the prom to spend time with her friends while her mom creates a loud distraction. Also, Natalia’s grandmother- is she actually senile? Is she not? She feels like a big plot device.
Overall, Prom isn’t Laurie Halse Anderson’s best book (that would still go to Speak, her best-known work) but I still liked it better than Wintergirls and Catalyst. It’s a solid coming-of-age story but certainly not an unforgettable one.