Saturday, September 7, 2013

book review: the best night of your (pathetic) life by tara altebrando

Title:  The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life
Author:  Tara Altebrando
Publisher:  Dutton Juvenile (2012)

An all-day scavenger hunt in the name of eternal small-town glory

With only a week until graduation, there's one last thing Mary and her friends must do together: participate in the Oyster Point High Official Unofficial Senior Week Scavenger Hunt. And Mary is determined to win.

Mary lost her spot at Georgetown to self-professed "it" bully Jake Barbone, and she's not about to lose again. But everyone is racing for the finish line with complicated motives, and the team's all-night adventure becomes all-night drama as shifting alliances, flared tempers, and crushing crushes take over. As the items and points pile up, Mary and her team must reinvent their strategy--and themselves--in order to win.

After completing this book, I wanted to instantly tell everyone to read it. Why? For one, it's plausible that people will. It's short compared to other novels - only 269 pages. Two, it's fun. As the synopsis above tells you, it's a pretty campy plot that revolves around the events of one night. In that way, a reader can look at it as just a fun story, one filled with enough plot twists and pitfalls to be entertained. Three, it's deeper than just a "campy" story. That's right, this novel can be viewed both ways, depending on how you're feeling when you're reading it. (And isn't that just the best when books do that?) Altebrando presents a story filled with last goodbyes, resolve of relationships and life events, initial nostalgia, and letting the broken pieces go... finally. Here are some reasons why I loved it... and then a comment about something I thought was pretty wonky...

1. The novel's format. More and more nowadays, we're seeing interactive novels that tell the reader, "STOP! Enjoy this for a second." Think Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, Chopsticks, and the forthcoming Damsel Distressed. These books often use photographs and music, but with The Best Night, it does so by providing the lists of the scavenger hunt items within the text. This provides a nice break in the novel's otherwise uninterrupted prose, and just reading over the lists, it's like a reader's along for the ride with Mary and her friends, which should be a goal of any author out there, especially young adult authors. Awesome possum!

2. Altebrando's prose. HALLELUJAH! I think many readers can understand the power of present tense, and it is used to perfection in this novel... well sorta. See, the novel's not exactly in present tense, but it sure seems like it:  I even had to go back to my copy and check. Definitely past tense. But that's not the point; it FEELS like present tense, and I guess that's all that matters. The dry wit, humor, and fast-paced click of the story line takes all the greatest parts of present tense into its loving, familiar past tense embrace. To quote pre-Twerkin' Miley, "It's the best of both worlds." Cyrus aside, Altebrando has captured the teen thought process in the written word of first-person narrator Mary, which is truly a piece of art. Also, I love the moments where Mary tells herself, "WAKE UP, MARY!" It's so real. I love it.

3. The idea of the hunt. The scavenger hunt, you guys. THE SCAVENGER HUNT! I wish my high school would have done something this awesome at the end of my senior year. In fact, I want to organize this for future graduating classes or some other groups I'm a part of now because it's THAT AMAZING! This kind of inspiration is what books should give readers (AKA all caps inspiration...). 

4. The high school drama. After graduating, everyone says, "I miss high school, but I don't miss the drama." Well, they're all lying. The reason why people like high school is because of the drama; it makes it interesting, exciting, horribly exhausting, and perfect when the drama is finally figured all out and people are friends again. WHEW! It's a beautiful mess, this high school stuff. What can we say? But the epitome of the high school drama is right here in this novel. The class bully and football star, the "also-rans," and the unprofessed love triangles are in full view throughout the story. It just has everything, both for people in high school still or out of high school that may be just a little nostalgic.

5. The fantastic lesson. For all those that haven't passed the high school phase of their life yet, this book hits the nail on the head about coming to terms with facing the unknowns in life. Especially when it comes to moving on from high school - and I've had conversations with friends about this before - this thought crosses people's minds:  "Did I just peak? What if my life only goes downhill from here?" What a scary thought, right? Unfortunately, there's no certainty that it will ever be better, but I loved that Altebrando tackled this idea in her novel. Although a depressing thought, I'm glad it's been added to the YA world. It's surprisingly skipped a lot.

6. Honestly, Mary!? AKA The "Wonky" Thing ***SPOILER(kind of)*** Okay, so Mary is super in love with this guy Carson throughout the first half of the book, and then she finds out some stuff about stuff - like I'm actually gonna tell you exactly what happens - and she's all of a sudden like, "Oh yeah, I don't really like him anymore." 1.) I didn't realize crushing on somebody was like an On/Off switch. 2.) I would be furious if what happened to me happened to her. Her reaction seemed unrealistic, but whatever... The awesomeness of the rest of the book makes up for it.

All right! So the verdict is... 

"Altebrando delivers a powerful must-read about the glory of the past, the uncertainty of the future, and the potential of the present. People of all ages should devour The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life as soon as possible, like NOW!"

So... have you read it? What did you think? Do you want to read it? Do you have questions? Let me know in the comments below. :)

'Til next time!
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