The Top Ten Stories in the 21 Proms (A 21 Proms Book Review; or at least reviews of the 10 stories in that book)

Scholastic, 2015

RATING: 4 out of 5

21Proms_labeledImagine attending in a school where Geeks are the superstars and those students who flunk their subjects are treated the way we treat LeBron James when Stephen Curry is around, setting NBA regular season record wins and winning the championship.  Yep, that is where I come from, and those schools exist. So it’s time to convince your parents to migrate here in my country.  Sorry, if you belong to the cool kids group, then don’t.

Because it is time for the prom season again in the States, the time when the cool guys (mostly captains of their football teams) rent (or buy) tuxedos, the time when super cool girls (I am imagining the Mean Girls here) raid every dress shops in town to find a perfect dress that will match the color of their teeth, I mean their eyes, I’ll be reviewing and ranking ten of the 21 prom stories in the aptly titled book “21 Proms” featuring the most renowned YA writers (I will mention them to boost my site’s visit number) including John Green and David Levithan. Of course you know them.

So pay attention cool kids, before you buy boutonnieres and corsages, and before you ask someone to the prom, better read this first. As for the Geeks, they are busy with this year’s National Spelling Bee contest.

Here are the ten proms that you might want to attend:

TOP 10: THREE FATES by Aimee Friedman

“…you can believe in almost anything. Like a single girl with three prom dates, or a starry night in the mountains, or even the existence of fate.”

For our opening salvo we have the story of Abigael (insert surname here, wait) and her typical prom problem: she doesn’t have a date. Not that she has zero invites, one guy actually did ask her out, but she refused. So we came into the dilemma, a few days before prom: finding a date. I know its lame but it’s a life or death thing for these girls apparently. The situation was so dire she had to ask her brother out. See? But she did try to ask two boys and failed miserably at that. So her prom came and she was dateless, until her brother turned out to accompany her, and that boy in her class she asked out a few days ago? He came to. And the boy in grade school who shoved her, head first, in the sand? The guy appeared in her front steps too. So now she has three dates, and thankfully four tickets.

What I like about this story is how, by reading Abigael’s lines, you could sympathize on her seemingly lame problem, she took her problem seriously but in the end accepted her fate and move on. Her character was equally funny and annoying, her situation at the end somehow will make you laugh or be lost.It basically discusses fate and the consequences of are actions. There could be that one moment, that one act that could have a change inside you in a profound way. This story made us believe that fate exists, and, maybe, just maybe, you could have three dates too, and choose from one of them who you would like to be along to experience a starry night in the mountains.

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TOP 9: YOUR BIG NIGHT by Sarah Mlynowski

“All you care about is spending the night with people who matter. People who always make you feel special.”

So we jump to another typical story, this time of Drew and her ever so original plan to get a handsome date for prom to make her ex-boyfriend jealous and to bring him back to her arms. Needless to say she succeeded in doing both but the end is what I expected from any self-respecting author.

So the end of the story saved it from being trash as it shows us the most important things during this big night: the correct color of boutonnieres. Kidding.It teaches us the things that are important during this most memorable time of your generally sad and boring high school life: yourself and your friends. Dates could be great, but if they do not like you, why should you like them? You should spend it with those people who matter to you and who appreciates you. It is, after all, your big night.

TOP 8: BETTER BE GOOD TO ME by Daniel Ehrenhaft

“A prisoner of your love

Entangled in your web

Hot whispers in the night

I’m captured by your spell”

We are transported to the 80’s with this prom story of Daniel Ehrenhaft, complete with 80’s music, fashion and jargons (there’s a glossary at the end so we millennials will not be lost). Here we read the story of Zack and his hopeless case of falling in love with his bestfriend’s girlfriend while having a relationship with the bestfriend of the girl he is in love with. And they are all close friends. Sick.

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DePaul Adams is the star of the story. He’s the bestfriend of Zack and while Ehrenhaft created his character to be interesting and deep (while trying to paint his love interest like the typical YA girls: mysterious, deep, intellectual, unusual beauty), we could not escape the pull of Adams as he tried to discover himself and thereby freeing both Zack and his girlfriend towardsa happy ending they want to have.

The narration and backdrop of the story is refreshing and as cool as the Thompson Twins, kidding, again. The letter of Adams is exceptionally moving and the songs played (or mentioned) in it bring about a unique and unforgettable story.

TOP 7: IN VODKA VERITAS by Holly Black

“Potestatem obscuri lateris nescis”

This is a weird take of a prom story, I said this because I don’t know if I should take this story seriously. In Holly Black’s In Vodka Veritas, we are treated with a lot of Latin and “Randy” actions (as per definition in Better Be Good’s glossary) both from the student and the teachers. Apparently, the Latin Club spiked the drinks during prom with a secret potion that turned the entire school into wild animals, you get the picture.prom-blog-pic

What is special in this story is how Black used Vodka to uncover the truth behind, not only the inner desires of the students and teachers, but also of the main character, uncovering the deepest desire of his heart, one that he did not really know until that one kiss.

Also, to kill the drama of the last paragraph, the secret society of the Latin boys (and girls) is also cool.

TOP 6: PRIMATE THE PROM by Libba Bray

“Take me out tonight

Where there’s music and there’s people

And they’re young and alive

Driving in your car

I never, never want to go home

Because I haven’t got one

Anymore “

So here I need Google.  I haven’t heard primate and baboons and a quick search tells me that (I might be wrong here) the author Libba Bray just used it as a metaphor. By having this technique, the story became special and achieved what it wants to focus on, which is the beauty of being different in the prying eyes of people and the courage to show it to the world.bodybuilder-gorilla-cartoon-character-jungle-gym-coghill-02

It discusses the struggles of the likes of Ryan and Carter as did other stories, but how Bray used the term primate was not only symbolic but bordering on scientific. By doing so, the author wants to tell us that the story of Ryan and Carter is not different, but normal. After all, we are all primates.

TOP 5: THE GREAT AMERICAN MORP by John Green

“…and the total Morpness of the world fills me with this crazy confidence.”

John Green enters the top 10 list with this story of Maggie and how she intends to be different from the others by kids by setting a world record for sleeping on the floor. Maggie’s story was told in your typical John Green fashion, a protagonist who is different from the popular kids, seeking to be unique and at the same time wanting to enjoy life in their own terms.

I am not surprise on how Green turned an ordinary story into an explicably special one. Maggie’s story is your typical YA story, but while the other characters like her turned up to prom, she and her bestfriend created a prom of their own, with their own set of rules, and food and music. Green managed to make this party (with the help of his characters) more enjoyable and memorable than any other proms in the story, and that’s what made this story special.

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TOP 4: A SIX-PACK OF BUD, A FIFTH OF WHISKEY, AND ME by Melissa dela Cruz

“I’m not disabled, just unpopular. As far as I could tell, that was not yet a disease.”

Okay so first off, let me get this straight. This story was not included in the top only because the author is half-Filipino. Unlike most of the stories in this book, this one is straight forward true-to-life, like a prom autobiography of Melissa dela Cruz.

The story explores the life of those kids who do not belong to the popular clique and their struggles to belong and to experience what it is to be a cool kid, even if for just one prom night. This story is frustrating, the feeling you get when watching Princess Sarah. The young Melissa here is so pitiful yet her thoughts do not ask for it. Her tone is so upbeat like the person who understands and accepts that life is just, well, not fair. But what is frustrating in here was the way her optimism carried her throughout the entire prom night, how she, even for a night, dreamed and hoped, that somehow she will be part of the popular clique.

Her actions here are revealing and yet ordinary, one that we had done ourselves sometime in our life though we did not know it. Melissa acted that she was part of the rich and popular kids just so she could carry the memory (even if it was pretend act) with her, to look back and say even for once, “hey I belong!”

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TOP 3: MOM CALLED SHE SAYS YOU HAVE TO GO TO PROM by Adrienne Maria Vrettos

“I know that I’m not as alone as people here want me to think. I’ve got a whole world out there waiting for me, and they’ve just got each other.”

What will you do if you were forced to attend a party (or a prom, to be specific) that you don’t want to attend and to be forced to wear a horrible dress which belonged to your parents? Will you shy away from the challenge or go to dance with the music?

Another story of being unique and being proud of it, this story of teaches us geeks on how to fight for yourself and to dance to the music even if no one hears it, even if you just dance alone. The words in this story resonated specially with me: “I’ve got a whole world out there for me, and they’ve just got each other.” It tells us that even if we are alone, we could still make it, we could create our own world, to be successful while others will not be so, to treat yourself as special and to believe, that in the end, you will be great. It only takes just one move to show them that you can dance. So as mom said, you have to go to prom and show them your moves.

TOP 2: THE QUESTION: A PLAY IN ONE ACT by Brent Hartinger

fb6c78ea771e9aba9ff7ec295cd5d216”Still they face each other. The tension is incredible; someone simply has to act.”

There’s this line in the story: “Eric and Allen step closer together. They stare at each other. It feels like there is something coming, but neither is exactly sure what it is.” That is what you will feel as you read the lines in this story which was styled as a play.

Every word in it is heavy with silence and meaning, their actions pulling you closer to the story. It is not profound; on the contrary, it is as straight forward as you can get, but every act was carefully laid and the climax so intense that you could almost feel it.

 

TOP 1: APOLOGY #1 by Ned Vizzini

“I’m sorry I never met you at that prom. I’m sure that, so far, living well has been your best revenge.”

This is my story. I read it and even before I finished it, I knew it. The main character is a writer and while he’s on a band and I’m not, it hit me still on a profound level. All the elements are the same, the procrastination, the feeling of being calm and happy, the need to climb up the ladder, and being sorry afterwards for not doing your best. Then the cycle repeats itself.

No line has summed up the procrastination as could be defined for me: “She never got the memo that I don’t act unless ordered.” The story tells us the consequence of this act, the main character, to paraphrase his words: “devoted himself wholeheartedly, simultaneously, to things that would derail his ambitions” and sure enough he failed to enter in an Ivy League college, his goal for the longest time.

alone-at-prom

I like how he described the feeling of being calm and happy and how I could relate to it, he said that anytime you feel at peace you are most certainly neglecting an important responsibility that is going to come up and attempt to kill you. He said that it is a horrible way of thinking it, but I could see that it should be so. While you need to be calm and happy, you must not forget your goals and obligations.

His need to work harder to justify how he could (and failed to) reach the goals he want for himself was smart but it was also sort of maligning those people who are fortunate enough in their lives, making them lazy because they already have what they want, within easy reach. In our daily life, we see that it is not the case. But still, the author Ned Vizzini clearly described the struggles of wanting to work your way into the highest steps of the ladder. As he said “But I wasn’t born into that sort of thing, and if you’re not born into it, you have to work your way into it…”

Finally, here’s the scene I will never forget: “I left the house into a perfect May evening and walked to the train, cursing myself. I’m sorry I can’t, I said to no one.” This happens to me all the time and it gave me goose bumps after reading it. He voiced out his regrets very clearly in the story, his remorse that he did not prepared better. That what has made this story stand up from the rest of the prom stories in the book: it made the flow clear cut from the characters contentment to his apology, the sorrow in it, the regrets very clearly told. He said “…and I had chosen not to do the work. Now the only thing I could do was be the nutty outsider, and I was sick of being the nutty outsider; I had a suspicion, later confirmed, that they get lonely and tend toward the deranged.”

While the cycle repeats itself, I could only hope that I could too, write an apology and live well.

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