July 27, 2005

A Cinderella Story

I was really looking forward to Laurie Halse Anderson's newest release, Prom; I loved Speak so much, and I enjoyed Catalyst, though it didn't hit me quite as hard. Admittedly, I wasn't quite as interested in the premise of Prom to begin with. Though I did attend my senior year, the prom was not the biggest event in my high school life, nor was I involved in its planning, so I wouldn't necessarily even have picked up a novel about the prom if not for the fact that Anderson had written it.

Of course, it's about more than the prom, and I'd expect nothing less from Anderson. And it's much more than your typical modern Cinderella story--though I did enjoy the occasional fairy-tale asides by the narrator, Ashley: "Once upon a time there was a girl who served pizza in a rat costume." The random chapter lengths lend the whole piece a sort of choppy quality, which does a good job of portraying what Ashley's life is like--more than a little random and chaotic.

Things really get crazy when, added to the usual family, work, school, and boyfriend chaos, Ashley's best friend ropes her into helping organize the prom. Unfortunately, a dishonest teacher has absconded with the prom money and they have to figure out how to do it on a shoestring budget. At first, Ashley doesn't much care. She's not a prom type. But after her best friend breaks her ankle, Ashley is put in the position of pulling it all together somehow. Unfortunately, due to her uneven attendance at school, there aren't any teachers willing to cut her any slack. So finding the time and means to accomplish everything is a much bigger job than she anticipated.

This is a realistic and gritty portrayal of life for a student who is pretty much the opposite of the one in Catalyst--focused more on getting through life than on academics. She has a job to deal with, an unreliable boyfriend, and a big family that's soon to have a new addition. Her family isn't rich or fancy, and Ashley herself is plain-spoken and down-to-earth. Life isn't simple for her to begin with, and when the prom makes things even more complicated, she has to really take a hard look at all the different aspects of the whole balancing act.

Of course, it's a Cinderella story, and accordingly, things stay more or less in balance--but not without a few tough realizations. I had some difficulty identifying with this particular narrator, since her experiences in high school were nothing like mine, and I have to admit that I was a little put off. I don't think everyone will be able to identify with her. But Anderson does bring her to life through a quirky and different style of narration and a clear voice.

I couldn't help thinking that this one might well appeal to that group of readers who don't read because they don't feel like there are books written for them, books whose characters they can identify with. This is an important point, because there are as many different high school experiences as there are people who went to high school. I know TadaMack has talked about books like Stoner and Spaz, and I think this one also falls into that category of honest, no-holds-barred stories about people who sometimes get overlooked, marginalized, or stereotyped by mainstream fiction. A good read if you're looking for something a little different.

1 comment:

tanita s. davis said...

Well, MONTHS later I finally get around to reading this one, and you're right -- a.) a good read for those kids whose lives are completely chaotic and likewise as 'ordinary' as the one depicted, and b.)I wouldn't have picked it up myself because it was about the prom.

I didn't bother going to our version of prom, but apparently it is a life-changing event for some people. I don't get that, and I actually don't think Laurie Halse Anderson does either -- in a way I almost felt like this novel was highlighting these kids (and the adults that they would become) who were decidedly blue-collar and had sad little lives where nothing but the prom mattered. Is that a tribute, then? Dunno. Liked the book, though; she has the sort of run-down town thing down really well.