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Book Title: 21 Proms|
The author of the book: David Levithan
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Reader ratings: 4.2
Edition: Scholastic Fiction
Date of issue: September 3rd 2015
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 777 KB
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What the fuck did I just read?
This was easily the worst anthology I've ever read. There's no credited editor, which I can only take to mean that none of these stories were edited beyond the authors reading them over. Because this was the most consistently awful anthology I've ever read. There were a few good ones, but not many. Here's the (quite painful) story-by-story review of this horrendous anthology.
Note: There were so many stories with detailed reviews that I couldn't fit them all in the review due to GoodReads' lenght limit. I had to leave some out, but you can find them in the comments below.
All She Wants by Cecily von Ziegesar: 1/5
What the fuck was this even doing here? Prom never made an appearance, and it wasn't even mentioned. I might've forgiven this if the story was better, but it was actually pretty horrible. The plot was pointless - all I could get from it was "Girl obsessed with Molly Ringwald seduces two boys and makes out with one of them while her parents are away." No, really, that's all that happens. And the writing wasn't any better. It was written in third-person, but in present tense. The only real reason to use present tense is to really get inside a character's head, so that you can do internal monologues and the like. With third-person narration, what's the point? The writing was also a bit bizarre in that it was done in a list format... for no reason. It didn't help Brooke's (nonexistent) characterization, and it never became a part of the plot, so it just sort of sat there as an annoying gimmick. Oh, and speaking of Brooke (our protagonist)'s characterization, all the characters were boring and undeveloped. And finally, the message of the story made me more than a bit uncomfortable - both of the boys that Brooke seduces are used as objects in Brooke's (bizarre and unexplained) transformation. Not once does Brooke consider how they might feel at being seduced for no reason at all. It just sort of seemed... disconnected from human emotions. So, yeah. This story sucked. And you know what the sad thing is? This isn't even one of the bottom three worst stories that the anthology features. We'll get to those later.
Your Big Night by Sarah Mlynowski: 1/5
This story was so bad I couldn't even finish it. (And in case you're wondering... nope, this isn't in the bottom three, either.) The biggest problem was the plot, because it's essentially high school drama. "Who will I go to the prom with?" "I have to go with [insert name of hot guy here]!" "Why won't he go with me?" I'm sure there's an audience for this kind of thing, but I find it mind-numbingly boring. I simply don't care about this high school drama - it can be pulled off well (as we'll see later), but it's rare. Outside of the plot, things weren't much better. The writing was in second-person for... some reason (hence the title). It served no purpose at all, and it got pretty annoying after a while - I kept expecting it to say, "If you want to go to the prom alone, go to page 5. If you want to ask [hot guy] again, go to page 9." The only reason I could think of to justify this was that Mlynowski wanted us to connect with the narrator more, but it didn't work because a) the narrator had no personality other than being irresistibly attracted to a particular guy and being whinny and b) the narrator did stupid things that I would never do. And about how the narrator was undeveloped? She wasn't the only one. There wasn't a single character in the story that felt like a real person. And finally, the ending was incredibly predictable - the reason I haven't given a plot summary is that if I did, you'd know how it ends immediately. I even checked in the back of the story (after I abandoned it) to see because I thought, "There's no way anyone, even Mlynowski, would make it that obvious," but no, I was right the entire time. So, for all those reasons and more, this story was made of fail.
And later it gets EVEN WORSE! Stick around for the snark-fest that will surely follow!
Off Like a Prom Dress by Billy Merrell: 4/5
This wasn't actually a short story - it was a free-verse poem. And Merrel certainly makes good use of the poem format; anywhere else, the lack of plot would've felt off, but here, it worked perfectly. It helped that what little plot we got was really interesting. And it helped that the language used was really, really nice - this had some of the best writing in the entire anthology. The only real problem with it was that the breaks between lines were often random, a symptom of each line having the same number of syllables, meaning that the story was often choppy. But nevertheless, this was a nice, memorable poem, and I quite enjoyed it.
Better Be Good to Me by Daniel Ehrenhaft: 1/5
This story is nominally about a father describing his prom night to his daughter. I say 'nominally' because no father would ever, ever talk like that to his daughter - there are tons of explicit references to sex, and the word 'asshole' is used more than once. Plus, 'gay' is used as an insult. Beyond being unbelievable for a father to say to his daughter, using the word as an insult is completely unacceptable. I find it hard to believe Ehrenhaft got away with this in an anthology with multiple openly gay authors. It was probably when I came across this word that I skipped the rest of the story. It didn't help that the plot was unentertaining - it was really slow, and it was mostly high school drama. (See my above rant about Your Big Night.) My last hope for staying invested would've been the characters, as that's the only thing that would ever make me even consider reading high school drama, but they were all one-dimensional and boring. And finally, the story tried desperately to be funny, and it failed epically - most of the jokes were quite painful, and I didn't laugh once.
The Question by Brent Hartinger: 5/5
This was my third favorite story in the anthology. (Or maybe it should be fourth favorite, since there were two stories tied for best. Whatever.) Although I shouldn't say 'story', because like Off Like a Prom Dress, this isn't a story. This entry is actually a short, one act play. Also like Off Like a Prom Dress, it makes good use of its format - I couldn't imagine this working as a short story. It helps that the play was AWESOME. I'm not sure how to describe the romance without spoiling it for you, except to say that it was adorable. The characters in the story are both well-rendered, and their dialogue was quite well-written. I didn't enjoy Shadow Walkers, but I've been told that was one of his worst books, and this play showed me how that might be true - I might end up trying out something else of his.
Geechee Girls Dancin', 1955 by Jacqueline Woodson: 1/5
Um... what just happened? It's hard to pick a single worst story in this anthology, but this was definitely a strong contender. The entire thing was written in a dialect that I think is supposed to be how black people talked during the slave period (so don't ask why the main action is set in 1955), but it was extremely confusing and annoying to read. Maybe this would've been justified if it served the plot at all, but there wasn't really a plot for it to serve. I couldn't even tell you what the story was about, other than that the main character seemed to be an attractive black girl whose ancestors were slaves. Oh, and that character? We get no development on her, no reason for her to connect to her at all. Overall, this story stood in stark contrast to the other stories in the anthology, and it even made me wonder what it was doing here.
How I Wrote to Toby by E. Lockhart: 5/5
This is tied for my favorite story in the anthology, with another one that we'll get too later. Right off the bat, the heroine was relatable and well-rendered. There were a few factors that contributed to this, but the biggest one was the fact that her brother (Toby) was in rehab. This shows up in almost everything she does, and it really made her character, at least for me. The side characters were equally well-rendered, if not quite as riveting. The plot was one that really pushed the narrator's strengths as a character to the forefront, along with Lockhart's ability to handle angst - we get the impression that the narrator is (mildly) tortured, without her ever being whiny or annoying. And the writing, which is completely believable for a teenage girl, is just the icing on the cake. This anthology had its fair share of weakness, but this story makes it easier to forget.
A Six-Pace of Bud, a Fifth of Whisky, and Me by Melissa de la Cruz: 3/5
I'd read a piece of de la Cruz's short fiction before, (Shelter Island in 666 The Number of the Beast) and I wasn't a huge fan, so I didn't have high hopes for this one. That being said, this story was better than I expected, but still not particularly good. Like Shelter Island, the writing was easily the best part. But other than that... well, that's a bit complicated. You see, according to the 'about the authors' section in the back of the book, this story was based on a real experience that de la Cruz actually had. This makes it sort of difficult to rate the plot and characters the way I normally would've. But, after reading it, my opinion is that the story would've been better if de la Cruz fictionalized it. There wasn't much dialogue, which gave the story a surreal effect, and the narrator was unrelatable. The plot was entertaining, which made this story a good choice if de la Cruz had to write about some real experience, but, like most fiction based on real experiences, it works better to fictionalize it.
Primate the Prom by Libba Bray: 1/5
(Note: This part of the review will be longer and snarkier than normal. I tried to avoid it, but this story makes me fucking mad.)
Oh, dear lord. This one. I wasn't a fan of Bray's short story from Geektastic, so I expected not to like this one, either. I had no fucking clue. Let me explain the premise to you. Our narrator is apparently romantically attracted to primates. At the insistence of his friend, he takes his primate boyfriend, Carter, to the prom with him. His parents, particularly his dad, don't approve of the him dating Carter at all, and there are several references to Carter and the narrator not being 'out' yet. Basically, this was BESTIALITY AS A METAPHOR FOR HOMOSEXUALITY.
No. Fuck no. That is not right. Correct me if I'm wrong, but bestiality normally comes from a MENTAL DISEASE. It is NOT natural and healthy - there are usually other mental problems associated with it. Note the contrast to homosexuality, which is completely natural, and which has no other mental problems associated with it. DO YOU SEE WHY I AM ANGRY AT BRAY FOR THIS? I know (think) that her intentions were good, but it's still completely unacceptable to compare homosexuality to a disease. It's offensive and wrong. If you want to write something that shows you support gay people, then WRITE ABOUT SOME FRIGGIN' GAY PEOPLE! This is not the '70's. You will not get a shitload of controversy for it.
So, other than that, this story was STILL an enormous disaster. The writing was confusing, and ridden with the occasional typo. Plus, the dialogue was atrocious. Here's something that the narrator's mom says in one of the early pages. It's about a yogurt place that also serves as a history museum:
"Oh, I love their soft-serve. So good - and historical, too."
Hahaha did ANYBODY EDIT THIS AT ALL?
And then there was the world that the characters lived in, that supported the goddamned metaphor. It made no sense. Here's what we know about it. Apparently, being in love with chimps is common enough that people know about it off hand. There seem to be a significant number of chimps walking around - Carter goes to school, and the narrator met him in a CD shop. Nevertheless, these chimps can't talk (or if they can, we've never seem them), so don't ask me how they go to school. And even though they seem to be intelligent, the media is completely unaffected by this - Curious George and King Kong still exist as normal. So, yeah, none of this makes sense. But who knows? Maybe chimps going to school is a normal thing and I've just never heard of it! Anything's possible when the story is badly written!
And, other than that, the narrator was bland, and there was no plot - three quarters of the story was the narrator giving us background about his parents finding out he loved chimps, and him meeting Carter. This story didn't work for me on an enormous level - the world made no sense, the writing was bad, and if I talk about the metaphor, I'll go on another rant.
See Me by Lisa Ann Sandell: 5/5
This is another story that should've been a full novel, but for completely different reasons. The reason is that I want to read more about Katie, the protagonist. I connected to her instantly, and she's one of the best protagonists I've read in a long, long time. Moreover, Sandell demonstrates her rare, almost nonexistent ability to write high school drama that I can actually stand. This is something I've never read before, and that I'm likely to never read again, but this just proves that no matter how bad the genre, a good writer can always make it awesome. The reason that I liked it (other than Katie) was probably that while the plot focused mainly on this drama, we also got to see other elements of Katie's life, however briefly. The plot was alright on its own, but I can hardly discuss it without talking about how much Katie shines in it. Coupled with the great writing, this is the story that's tied with How I Wrote to Toby for best. I never would've suspected it would be good based on the premise, but it surprised me in the best way possible.
Prom for Fat Girls by Rachel Cohn: 1/5
Rachel Cohn is an author I’m familiar with, and considering that my feelings about her have been mixed at best, this isn’t a huge disappointment. I honestly don’t know what Cohn was going for here, but from what I can tell, she tried to write too much in too little pages, making it a muddled and confusing mess. There were far too many characters, but not a single one was developed, and not a single one made me care about them at all. This might’ve been because there wasn’t much of a plot, just brief descriptions of characters and their interactions with each other. And then there was the writing. It wasn’t quite as bad as Very LeFreak, but it certainly wasn’t good – it was annoying and confusing on a consistent basis. All this meant that nothing made sense, and nothing was at all entertaining.
Chicken by Jodi Lynn Anderson: 1/5
Ugh. This is another one of those stories that was so unbelievably awful, I had to think, ‘what was the author thinking when she wrote this?’ The worst part was the writing – it was good for the first page or so, but then it became COLLASALLY STUPID. I don’t think I can accurately describe how bad it was, so YOU GET A QUOTESPAN![She] watched the Pagan moonfoloowing them to Bowie. Maybe following her. She was that full of bigness.On the dance floor, she and Newley began gently, their bodies slowly pulled together in stages like two things melting....and everyone laughed because she'd written [her essay] in a witty way.He [looked] completely perpindicular.Elise froze. There was the bigness of the guys. No, really. All of those are actual quotes from the story. And the entire thing is written like that - it's so goddamned stupid.
And not much of the rest of the story was better. The characters all felt like caricatures, for one thing. And for another, this was a complete Random Events Plot. The story would take a long time to describe, and I just used a lot of space with the quotespan, but just trust me that none of the events made sense or felt at all connected. This was a strong contender for worst story here. It was truly awful.
Lost Sometimes by David Levithan: 3/5
This was a bit of a bizarre experience to read, if only because it was so radically different from Levithan's other work. (I'm a big Levithan fan, both in terms of short fiction and full novels.) Levithan's work is normally sort of fun and light-hearted, and that was present here, but it felt strained, like Levithan felt like it was obligatory. It was also bizarre in that the characters sort of sucked. (I mean that in both the figurative and the literal sense.) The narrator was the only one we really got to know, and he was a gay stereotype, the kind you'd think Levithan would want to avoid. I'm giving him a little leniency, since Levithan is gay himself, but it was still a little annoying. Also, there was no plot. It was almost entirely the narrator and his boyfriend doing it, which made for an off-putting reading experience. It had its positives - the writing was good, and it was a nice exploration of the need for sex - but it was so weird and bizarre that I couldn't really enjoy it.
(Edit: I read this story again when it appeared in How They Met and Other Stories, and my opinion on it changed a lot. For more, go here.)
The Great American Morp by John Green: 5/5
This, on the other hand, captured exactly what made Green's short fiction awesome - it was fun, light, and funny. I honestly think I like his short fiction better than his full novels, Will Grayson Will Grayson notwithstanding. First off, it was hilarious, in a way that only John Green ever is. It also had great, developed characters that all felt like real people - I instantly related to the narrator and her friends. The plot mainly served to contribute to the lightness, which was fine - anything more serious would've felt off, especially considering how awkward the last story was. And the writing was pretty good, too. Overall, this is my second favorite story here. It was awesome.
So overall, *sighs*. It's clear that this wasn't edited, at least by a professional. There were a few good stories, but the stories that I hated were so intensely bad that I can't justify giving it anything above two stars.
Standouts: The Question, How I Wrote to Toby, See Me, The Great American Morp
The worst: GOD, THERE ARE SO MANY! HOW DO I CHOOSE?
Your Big Night, Better Be Good to Me, Three Fates, Geechee Girls Dancin', 1955, Primate the Prom, Prom for Fat Girls, Chicken, The Backup Date
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Read information about the authorDavid Levithan (born 1972) is an American children's book editor and award-winning author. He published his first YA book, Boy Meets Boy, in 2003. Levithan is also the founding editor of PUSH, a Young Adult imprint of Scholastic Press.
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