Review: 21 Proms edited by David Levithan and Daniel Ehrenhaft

21 promsTitle: 21 Proms

Authors: Elizabeth Craft, Cecily von Ziegesar, Holly Black, Sarah Mlynowski, Billy Merrell, Adrienne Maria Vrettos, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Aimee Friedman, Brent Hartinger, Will Leitch, Jacqueline Woodson, E. Lockhart, Melissa de la Cruz, Libba Bray, Ned Vizzini, Lisa Ann Sandell, Rachel Cohn, Jodi Lynn Anderson, Leslie Margolis, David Levithan, and John Green

Editors: David Levithan and Daniel Ehrenhaft

Publisher: Point

Source: Purchased

Check this book out on Goodreads.

Buy this book at: Chapters | Book Depository

3 stars

From an amazing array of authors including John Green, David Levithan, E. Lockhart, Libba Bray, Ned Vizzini, and Holly Black…  Prom. It’s supposed to be one of the best nights of your life. Or, at least, you’re supposed to have a good time. But what if you’d rather be going with your best friend’s date than your own? What if a sinister underground society of students has spiked the punch? What if your date turns out to be more of a frog than a prince? Or what if he’s (literally) an ape?

There are ways you can fight it. You can protest the silliness of the regular prom by hosting a backwards prom – also known as a morp. You can throw a prom for fat girls. You can stay at home to watch old teen movies and get your cute neighbor and his cuter brother to join you. You can dance to your own music. (Source: Goodreads)

This collection of 21 stories by 21 YA authors is all about proms. The stories range from traditional stories of falling in love at prom to stories about anti-proms to same sex proms to no prom at all. The stories also range from fun and cute to sort of depressing. A good mixture of tales from a mix of narrators.

I have to say, there was just something missing in this anthology. It didn’t excite me. It lacked a lot. There were lots of cliches, and boring stories, and offensive stories. I was so bored reading this it was just sad. There are a few bright points in this one, but overall pretty bland. The book is slow to pick up, with a disappointing opening, but ends on a high note. The flow throughout the entire book was pretty bad, as well, with some really jarring out of place stories thrown in there.

I have to say the cover of this one made me think of My True Love Gave to MeThey both have representations of the characters from each story on the cover. I definitely got the feeling this cover was inspired by that cover. I just think it wasn’t executed as well. This one isn’t nearly as cute looking, and was sort of plain. Just like I did with My True Love Gave Me I guessed at all the images on the cover, but I totally got them all right. It was a lot more obvious with this one.

I’m going to break this book down by story, in the order than they appear in the book. I apologize there are a lot of them.

You are a Prom Queen, Dance Dance Dance” by Elizabeth Craft 1 star
Ayla hates everything, especially dancing. Her prom date, Adam, is perfect because he hates dancing too, except it’s prom and he wants to dance. Ayla needs to learn to be a little more like Adam, who is overly positive so she can enjoy prom for what it is. This story was basically just boring, clichéd, and bad. The whole concept of hating everything is just so overdone, she has absolutely no reason to be so negative, and yet she is. The idea is so cliched it made me cringe. The whole thing lacked depth or emotion. Even when Craft tried to add depth it really just failed to take. It didn’t even redeem itself by being cute because Ayla was unlikable and the constant repetition of “I hate —” got obnoxious. Not a good start for the book.

All She Wants” by Cecily von Ziegesar 2 stars
Brooke is alone at Christmas, and she’s stuck at home watching ’80s movies starring Molly Ringwald. Suddenly she wants to be Molly, wants to have the prom she won’t have at school. So she invites the boy from downstairs up for their own personal prom. I didn’t really like this one either. I found it a little cliched and boring once again. The whole ’80s obsession thing is pretty obvious when you try to come up with a prom plot. I guess it was cool that it wasn’t a real prom? I don’t know. I didn’t like the format either, which was like mini-chapters which were essentially just big paragraphs? I don’t know. It wasn’t very interesting to me, and I didn’t feel like there was room to connect to the characters which was disappointing. As much as I put down the ’80s-obsession plot, I love Molly Ringwald movies so the idea of a connection like the one Brooke and Taylor could have had is intriguing, it just wasn’t there.

In Vodka Veritas” by Holly Black 3 stars
Two best friends plan to get drunk and break into one of the buildings on their school’s campus on prom night when they can’t get dates. But then one gets a date and the other follows through on the plan, only to find himself caught up in a strange plot to blackmail the entire class. This one was weird, like straight-up bizarre. I found the beginning of it kind of bland and…cliched. It was all “moan moan we’re so dorky”, but when the twist came in things got really interesting and really good. The unnamed main narrator was easy to relate to after a certain point, which made it a breeze to get through the second half. The thing is though, this is about Bacchanalia and prom, so there’s this weird Greek Mythology plot going on in their too, with a somewhat evil Latin club. It’s weird, but good.

Your Big Night” by Sarah Mlynowski 2 stars
Drew wants a date for prom, not because she has a big thing about prom but because she wants to make her ex-boyfriend jealous at prom so he’ll take her back. I really didn’t like this one very much. It had some redeeming qualities, especially the ending, but up to that point it was largely just annoying. I didn’t think the plot was too much of an issue. It was pretty standard. But the issue was the tone, she was so whiny. And it was second person, thus always “you” and that really doesn’t work because I could not identify with Drew whatsoever. The whiny tone of the whole story just made it frustrating to read. I think, yes, she redeemed herself to some extent in the end but overall the tone was so frustrating it hardly mattered.

Off Like a Prom Dress” by Billy Merrell 4 stars
All she wants is a dress that makes her feel beautiful, and it doesn’t really matter what Jonathon thinks or what the magazines tell her. She just wants something for her. I really liked this one. It’s written sort of as a poem? I’ve never actually read anything in this style, though I know several authors write like this. I actually really enjoyed it. I think Merrell really captured something important about not just proms but events like proms, this desire to have something that makes you feel beautiful. I think I’ll leave this quote from the end of this one:

I danced in place with my eyes closed and the sea settling,
thinking of Jonathan in a matching green tie, his eyes lit
by that odd light, and everything began to change. (p. 70)

“Mom called, she says you have to go to prom”” by Adrienne Maria Vrettos 4 stars
She doesn’t even want to go to prom, but her mom makes her, so she does what she can to enjoy it. If she has to go to prom, she’s going to make the most of it. I really enjoyed this one. I didn’t really enjoy the beginning of it, but it got really good. I think Vrettos made a really strong character in this one. The unnamed narrator has a lot of depth, and such a strong character. I really liked that she owned who she is and that she enjoyed prom even though she didn’t want to be there. She made it her own. I think there was something a little bittersweet to this story, as sweet as it was that she owned who she is, there was something a little depressing because everyone in this town hates her family and she just wants to escape. Either way this story had some of the best depth in the book.

Better Be Good to Me” by Daniel Ehrenhaft 4 stars
Zack is writing his daughter a letter to tell her about his prom as she prepares for his. At his prom he had sex for the first time, he wants her to know about it, to know about his relationship with her mom. I really enjoyed this one. It’s quite long, with mini-chapters, an intro, a glossary, probably the longest one at this point in the book. I liked the plot which is really just Zack getting the courage to get the girl, his best friend’s girlfriend. I thought it was cute and sweet. Definitely not the most original story but well done compared to the other less than original ideas in this anthology. I found the writing to be smooth and interesting, which was really what set this apart – it was actually interesting. There’s some homophobia in this, which I think is meant to capture a reality of the ’80s rather than cast judgement of the character’s or author’s opinions. This of course doesn’t excuse Ehrenhaft but I guess I understand what he’s doing? It’s not great though that bit.

Three Fates” by Aimee Friedman 5 stars copy
Abby needs a date to prom, but she only has 2 weeks left. She asks Elijah but he isn’t into prom, her brother, Brian, offers but it turns out he’s busy, and she asks Archie, but he can’t come into town that day. It turns out she might not be able to have a date after all, or maybe the fates have other plans. This is probably one of the best stories in the book. It’s a bit long, like the story that precedes it in the book. I think there was a good amount of depth to this one, Friedman didn’t tackle anything too heavy but I liked the idea that Abby has a hard time seeing herself dating boys she’s known her whole life. I think this story had some fantastic twists and was very funny. The tone was fantastic. funny and sweet. I liked the characters, liked the content, liked the concept. Definitely one of my favourites.

The Question: A Play in One Act” by Brent Hartinger 3 stars
Eric has a question he’s supposed to ask Brittany, but maybe that’s not really what he wants to do, or who he wants to ask this particular question to. I liked this one, the plot was kind of unexpected. I thought it was another one of those bittersweet ones. The moments between Allen and Eric were sweet, but the conclusion that they’re still unable to express themselves was what made it so bittersweet. What I didn’t like about this was the format. I’m not a fan of the faux-play style of writing, it’s just not for me. Despite this, I think Hartinger captured the feeling well.

Shutter” by Will Leitch 4 stars
Joe is nervous about his daughter’s prom. She’s never even talked about boys before, and now suddenly she’s going to prom. I really liked this story. I think the idea was unique. At first I was nervous that it would be too much like Daniel Ehrenhaft’s story, which is also about a father. However, this story was completely different. Joe’s nerves about his daughter’s prom don’t reflect his own prom, they’re more tied to the failure of his marriage and his daughter’s somewhat “peculiar” behavior. There was a lot in this story, in such a short story, which was really well done. Leitch captured Joe’s nerves about his daughter perfectly. On top of that I think he communicated this unspoken secret between father and daughter really well. Definitely one of the more interesting stories in the book.

Geechee Girls Dancin’, 1955” by Jacqueline Woodson 3 stars
Rue-Jean is born in a community of people in the south who are descendents of slaves originally from West Africa. The story is written in a way that is meant to represent the language of the Gullah people (here‘s something from Yale’s website about the Gullah/Geechee, which I read to understand the context of the story a little better). I think this is one of the more unusual stories in the anthology. It definitely felt out of place, which made it a little hard to enjoy. On top of that the language is quite jarring. I did enjoy it to a certain extent however because I appreciated what Woodson was taking on, which was a representation of a community that is rather unknown to many people. I think that while it was hard to read it captured something unique. I don’t know that I fully understood the story, but I did get this sense of hope for the future from the story. The trouble with this story is that the context is very important, and even with the information I read I didn’t really get it.

How I Wrote to Toby” by E. Lockhart 5 stars copy
Paige’s brother is in rehab, and she doesn’t know how to live anymore. But she realizes she should try to live, so she goes out with Paul and she agrees to go to prom with him. I loved this story. I think this is the first one I read in the whole anthology that I actually loved. I really enjoyed the idea behind this story. I think Lockhart really created a realistic and emotional character in Paige and in her story. I enjoyed it and could really have done with a longer version of the story. I have never read anything by Lockhart before, but now I think I really ought to. This is, at this point in the book, the best written story with the most realistic plot. The other stories all fall into the same sort of rom-com/teen movie style category, and none really take on anything too seriously, which isn’t awful, but it doesn’t create as realistic and touching of a story.

A Six-pack of Bud, a Fifth of Whiskey, and Me” by Melissa de la Cruz 3 stars
This story, put forth as the true events of de la Cruz’s own prom, is about Melissa being paired up with a random popular guy for her prom by the popular girls at her all-girls school. I kind of liked this one? But only to the extent that it worked as a “fun anecdote” and not so much as a short story in a YA anthology. I think there was a lack of storytelling, characterization, anything really, beyond what’s necessary to retell a much repeated anecdote about yourself. The idea is kind of funny, and in real life this is probably the kind of anecdote you’d love to hear – a guy gets paid in booze to go to a prom with some random girl – but in a book…not so much?

Primate the Prom” by Libba Bray 1 star
He’s dating an ape and he just wants people to be okay with it. So they decide to Primate the Prom and go together in the hopes of encouraging other interspecies couples to come out too. This was terrible! This story basically substitutes (and equates) homosexuality with BEASTIALITY. Like that is somehow acceptable. It was awful and difficult to read because why would you ever do this? This is the kind of thing people do as a way to put down homosexuals. If this is some weird attempt at reclaiming beastiality it, first of all, doesn’t make sense and, second, was just awful.

Apology #1” by Ned Vizzini 2 stars
This story, like de la Cruz’s story, is put forth as the true events of the author’s own prom. Ned Vizzini stood a girl up at her prom, and this story is a much belated apology to that girl. I think this didn’t pull off the funny anecdote style the way de la Cruz did. I felt like Vizzini wasn’t afraid to make himself look like an asshole, which I guess could be considered “brave”. I mostly just felt like it was a rambling mess where he tried to look at life more “deeply” but it just fell flat and shallow and boring.

See Me” by Lisa Ann Sandell 2 stars
No one notices her, and all she wants is to be seen. She wants Dan Jacobs to ask her to prom, her best friends wants her to ask Jason to prom. There’s an open mic night on the night of the prom, maybe that’s a better option? I think this story was cute, the wrap-up especially was cute, but it didn’t feel like anything special. I think the story worked well, the character wasn’t too deep but represented more of a stereotypical teen rom-com character, but nothing really stood out. It’s a bit troubling that there’s really not even much to comment on, that’s how little it stood out.

Prom for Fat Girls” by Rachel Cohn 1 star
Various couples find happiness at a prom party thrown by the Fat Girls Club. Honestly, this one was just a mess of names and plots. It was like a gossip column. Nothing of interest or substance happened, and just a bunch of random stuff was listed off in quick succession. I can’t remember a single person, name, events, nothing. It was quick to read? But that’s just because it read like a gossip rag. Not a fan at all.

Chicken” by Jodi Lynn Anderson 2 stars
Elsie agrees to go to prom with Ben, her unusual best friend with a pet chicken, even though she really wants to go with Newley. I found this story a little…annoying? Maybe I’m running out of steam at this point in the book, but honestly this story was just…ugh. I found the tone kind of annoying. I found Elsie highly unlikable, and hated the way everyone treated Ben. I found the writing somewhat pretentious, and difficult to read or get into. I just the whole thing was a bit of a chore to read. I think the only really bright spot was Ben, who was sweet, and his Chicken.

The Backup Date” by Leslie Margolis 3 stars
Jasmine just wants prom to be perfect, she wants to look perfect, and have a great night with her boyfriend, Austin. But now things are ruined, her brother is ruining prom. She doesn’t care though, right? She’s only doing this so Austin will have a good prom. I kind of enjoyed this one, a little on the fence though? I thought the idea was kind of funny. I liked the style of the writing, because it created this comic repetition throughout the story. However, the tone of it, and the characters were all a little obnoxiously privileged, Jasmine especially. It was a little off-putting and made the experience of reading a little less fun.

Lost Sometimes” by David Levithan 2 stars
Erik and Dutch are together, but they’re mostly just having sex. They go to prom so that they can shock people, not because they’re together, but because they’re going to have sex in as many weird places as possible. I have to admit, I’m not really a big fan of Levithan. This was already working against this story to begin with, but then you add the weird sort of depressing tone of this story, and it just wasn’t that great. I don’t really enjoy Levithan’s writing style. Then Erik and Dutch were hard to really connect with, especially because Dutch was thoroughly unlikable. I think Levithan captured something important in his story, the feeling that a lot of young gay people have that they’ll never really have the typical prom experience. This is true for a lot of people, because of who you are you can’t have what everyone else is given. I think this definitely came across and that’s what made the story so depressing – which really worked well and was the main good thing about this story.

The Great American Morp” by John Green 5 stars copy
Maggie and Carly cannot go to prom, because Maggie’s parents are the photographers and that’s embarrassing. So they plan a Morp, a reverse prom. And it may just turn out to be the best party ever. This is probably the most fun and sweet story in the entire anthology. This is the only story in the book that made me excited and squinch and gush a little. I think the idea is not super original or anything, it’s basically an anti-prom, but John Green just has a way with the words and makes the whole story feel so unique and beautiful. Tyler Trumpet? Basically picture Jamie Blackley in If I Stay. One issue with this one? He says “retarded”. Boo. Otherwise, a great ending to this book.

Overall I wasn’t a huge fan of this anthology. I found it a bit of a chore to read, there were few stories that I actually enjoyed to the point of recommending them. Probably wouldn’t recommend reading this, only if you really like the authors.

Ramble on,

Have you read 21 PromsLet me know your thoughts in the comments!
Check out Adrienne Maria Vrettos at her website, Goodreads, and Twitter.
Check out Aimee Friedman at her website and Goodreads.
Check out Billy Merrell at his website.
Check out Brent Hartinger at his website, Goodreads, and Twitter.
Check out Cecily von Ziegesar at her Twitter.
Check out Daniel Ehrenhaft at his website.
Check out David Levithan at his website and Goodreads.
Check out E. Lockhart at her website, Goodreads, and Twitter.
Check out Holly Black at her website and Goodreads.
Check out Jacqueline Woodson at her website and Goodreads.
Check out Jodi Lynn Anderson at her Goodreads.
Check out John Green at his website, Goodreads, and Twitter.
Check out Leslie Margolis at her website.
Check out Libba Bray at her website, Goodreads, and Twitter.
Check out Lisa Ann Sandell at her website and Goodreads.
Check out Melissa de la Cruz at her website, Goodreads, and Twitter.
Check out Ned Vizzini at his website.
Check out Rachel Cohn at her website and Twitter.
Check out Sarah Mlynowski at her website and Goodreads.
Check out Will Leitch at his Tumblr.
Connect with me on Goodreads, BlogLovin, and Twitter.

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