Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Book Review: Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Okay, so let's suppose you are stuck in high school, reading books like eating bonbons, with a college vocabulary and a wicked sense of humor. And let's suppose that you exhausted Encyclopedia Brown in third grade, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew by fifth, Buffy is off the air and you are starved for entertainment. What should you do?

Well, meet Maggie Quinn: honor student, reporter, photographer, and apparently the target of a curse that may end up forcing her to - shudder - attend the prom.

Maggie is the heroine - yes, I can say that! - of the "Girl vs Evil" YA series by author Rosemary Clement-Moore. Here's the big picture of the first book, Prom Dates from Hell:

A minor incident with the Jocks and the Jessicas, Avalon high school's ruling clique, starts evil dominoes falling (figuratively), one-by-one crushing the school's royalty by destroying what each values most. Maggie Quinn suffers prophetic dreams, and each of the disasters seems to happen when Maggie is around. Small wonder that her attention is as much on trying to make sure the school doesn't start chanting "Burn the Witch" as it is on trying to figure out what's happening. And is it an evil ghost, or perhaps a Mesopotamian demon, that burns out her computer, along with the backup of her term paper that's due tomorrow?

Maggie labors to chase down the clues and keep down the body count, all the while waxing sarcastic about the social and educational insanity around her. Oh, and to make the chaos complete, one of the Jocks and a hot college guy with a thing for the occult seem to be vieing for her attention. Now if she can just find a dress before everyone dies horribly at the prom.

I loved this book, it's smart as Hell, although I do have some cautions about it.

First, Maggie is very intelligent, and actively uses vocabulary that most high schoolers won't understand, even after they wander on up to college. At first, that threw me off; I thought, Maggie's too smart to be in high school. Then I remembered that, actually, I knew all those words in sixth grade. I just didn't know anyone else that actually used them. Once I came to realize that, I let myself fall in love with the book. Especially after I met Maggie's Chemistry teacher, Professor Blackthorne.

Second, Maggie uses cultural references that won't be very familiar to typical high schoolers. The ones that weren't paying attention in class, that is. The good news is that the author does an awesome job of filling in any clueless readers, without slowing down the scene for footnotes. Here's an example -
"Because the last thing I need right now is the head cheerleader screaming, 'I saw Goody Quinn dancing with the devil in the moonlight.'"

A slow, reluctant smile turned up the corners of his mouth. "Yeah. Those girls in The Crucible. They were totally Jessicas."

By the way, any author who can have three characters named Jessica in the same book and still have the reader keep them straight, deserves some kind of achievement medal. I'll keep this book around for years to study that technique, right along with Tamora Pierce's Cold Fire. (No, Cold Fire doesn't have Jessicas, but it has crowds of characters and the reader still can still keep track of them.)

Third, it is a great read even for bright guy-readers, but they have to hold on through the first two chapters or so. Despite a fight between Jocks and a guy named Stanley, the estrogen quotient is elevated at the start. It's a school in the throes of prom season, so fabrics and clothes and social hierarchies are the order of the day, at least until the first Shadow Thing arrives. After that, well, hey, it's a story about a girl reporter/investigator, so expect to occasionally hear what underwear she's wearing. Life's like that. Take it with a shaker of salt.

That'll be funnier after you read the book.

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