Review: Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson
Prom is rapidly approaching and everybody at Carceras High is going crazy for it – everybody, that is, except Ashley. But when their maths teacher steals the money meant for the prom, Ashley steps in to help her best friend Natalia save the special day for all of the other students (and she even starts to care about it herself, too).
Compared to Speak and Wintergirls, Prom is a book devoid of a USP. It’s painfully average. Despite Ashley’s seemingly self-sacrificial decision to help Natalia with the prom, she’s one of the most self-absorbed characters I’ve had the displeasure to encounter. Her boyfriend, TJ, finds an apartment for them to rent and gets it all ready for her to move in as soon as she graduates from high school, but she’s so focused on the fact that the bathroom is behind a curtain in the corner that she doesn’t even remember to thank him. Her friends all hate him for no reason, too: he dropped out of high school because he was victimised by the vice principal, but apparently that’s a great reason to dump his ass. #justiceforTJ
Laurie Halse Anderson claims that she wrote Prom so that ‘normal’ people could see themselves represented in fiction, but Ashley is judgemental, shallow and rude – a combination which makes her a terrible protagonist. I found myself snorting derisively a few times while reading Prom, but when you’re mocking the speaker instead of empathising with them something has gone terribly wrong.
I gave Prom three stars because there’s nothing I hate about it enough to rate it lower, but things were pretty poorly executed. If you take it at face value as a cute, lighthearted contemporary about a girl who grows to love prom, it’s a pretty fun story. There are some silly scenes in which her heavily pregnant mother pretends to go into labour as a distraction, and crazy Russian Grandma Shulmensky brightens up every page that she graces.
However, Halse Anderson’s attempt to portray the working class is terrible. Somehow Ashley’s father can afford to spend all day every day renovating their home, despite having four young kids and a fifth on the way. Ashley works at a diner for minimum wage, but she’s still snooty enough to imagine her first apartment being something from the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The honest lower class experience is missing, briefly eluded to by Ashley as she mentions the number of ‘crack whores’ and young mums in her school year. For an author who hasn’t shied away from tough topics in the past, it’s surprising that Halse Anderson wouldn’t tackle this more head on.
But, of course, Prom is supposed to be about normal people. Tough topics can be saved for another day.
If you’re interested in learning more about Prom, check it out on Goodreads.