TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:
I know I’m dating myself with this reference, but it’s actually not a secret that I’m old, y’all. OLD. But do any of you remember that 90s high school graduation night flick, “Can’t Hardly Wait”? It was a fairly generic film about having a best night of your life experience — partying, falling in love, having sex, drinking, changing who you are; you know, the whole deal — as a way to celebrate freedom from high school. Cliques were busted, unspoken loves were revealed, and shenanigans ensued. It was certainly not a great (or even good) movie, but it made enough of an impact on me to stick in my brain all these years later.
I’m pretty sure “The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life,” Tara Altebrando’s new novel for Penguin Teen, aspires to the same “let loose / there are so many possibilities / anything can happen in one night!” vibe that permeated “Can’t Hardly Wait.” It probably tells you everything you need to know about “The Best Night …” that it fails miserably at achieving even these meager heights. “The Best Night …” is just so tame and tired, and it features such a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist, that I found myself wishing for more of the fun and freedom of, gulp, “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
The concept here is absolutely killer, which makes it even more of a shame that “The Best Night …” sputters out so quickly. Check this: teams of seniors participate in an all-night scavenger hunt on a quest for fame, glory, and a Yeti statue. The clues are both clever and silly (everything from a “find a #1 foam finger” to “shuck a Mary on a half shell”), requiring the teens to drive all over to acquire more booty and gain more points. [Although, in an indication of this book’s lameness, the *illegal, unsanctioned* hunt must end by 12:30 am. Um, seriously? Because kids have never lied about where they are to stay out all night? Oh boy.]
Our protagonist here is Mary, who, along with her fellow math nerds, musicians, and drama geeks, has vowed to win the hunt and finally, FINALLY!, be taken seriously by Barbone and the other popular kids. Mary is so resolutely fixated on winning the race that she’s often incredibly obnoxious to her own teammates and friends. She’s especially rude to her alleged best friend, insanely smart, suspenders-wearing, uber geek Patrick, who made a poorly received pass at her at prom. Patrick is clearly in love with Mary, who instead of showing any bit of warmth or compassion for her alleged best friend, instead ignores him, belittles him, and otherwise treats him like a dog. Meanwhile, her other best friend Winter is sullen and moody throughout the initial stages of the hunt, and it’s clearly telegraphed that there’s something going on between Winter and Mary’s crush, this boring rich kid named Carson. That’s the problem with “The Best Night …”, that everything outside of the clues — all the human relationships and feelings and revelations — is so stinking obvious. There is absolutely nothing unique here, from the standard jock stereotypes to the unworthy crush to the wholly unbelievable ending, in which we must buy that a high school senior is more afraid of being grounded than of committing grand theft auto.
I could go on, but you get the point. It’s hard to care at all about a selfish, petty, wholly juvenile main character with an annoying best male friend, a pouting best female friend, a dull crush, and a night filled with very few hijinks and no real sense of risk or danger. Overall, I wish “The Best Night …” was just more FUN than it ultimately turns out to be, because isn’t that the whole point of a “one wild night” story? [Or even a “one wild day” story. Hello, “The Breakfast Club!”]
If I haven’t dissuaded you, “The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life” will be published in July 2012. I think an older middle school audience would be fine, as there is only a bit of harsh language and one example of off-screen drinking. See what you think this summer … and please let us know!