Review: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando

The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando. Dutton Juvenile, 2012. Currently Available.

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

the best night of your pathetic lifeFace Value: This cover is totally cool, edgy and dorky in all the right ways. I’ve been noticing silhouettes as a frequent cover motif recently and it’s one that I totally approve of. Plus, the way the scavenger hunt items emerge through the text is a great way of hinting at the plot without giving too much away.

Does it Break the Slate? Eh, not really. To be honest, Mary is really whiny and self-absorbed for a lot of this book, and I wanted to shake some sense into her. But at the same time, I found her to be seriously relatable and believable as a senior in high school. It’s a self-absorbed time. And it’s really scary to be on the verge of something major, trying to brace yourself for a huge change and have the meaningful experiences you always thought you would based on popular culture. So yes, Mary can be really bratty and rude and selfish. But I get it. And by the end of the book, she’s grown up a lot. Maybe there is some real Slatebreaking in her future.

Who would we give it to? It would be a kind of fun graduation present. And I think the content would be deeply relatable to anybody about to graduate from high school and move onto the next phase of life, whatever that is. I think this is one of those books that works better though, when you’re actually in that phase of your life.

Review: Mary is about to graduate from high school and things are mildly disappointing. She didn’t get into Georgetown, and Neanderthal bully Jake Barbone did. Prom was a disappointment, not the magical romantic evening she thought it might be.  Her high school experience doesn’t feel like enough, like what it was supposed to be. She’s looking forward to college, but nervous about leaving friends and familiarity behind. She feels like the one chance she has to do something memorable is the annual “Oyster Point High Official Unofficial Senior Week Scavenger Hunt.” She and her best friends: Patrick, Winter and Dez make up a team of semi-misfits, determined to defeat Barbone and his cronies. Meanwhile, Patrick is in love with Mary and Mary is in love with another friend, Carson, who is dating Jill but actually has something going with Winter. Chaos ensues.  (as for Dez? Dez is the best. Definitely my favorite character in this book)

The experience of reading this book was oddly frustrating. But after I finished it, I realized that that’s actually part of what really works about it. Reading this book feels like participating in a madcap scavenger hunt with your best friends – equal parts exhilarating/frustrating/boring/exciting. When Mary is being uppity and Patrick is being difficult and Winter is being vague, and they just need to get something done, I found myself feeling the same level of frustration that I would if I were in the backseat of that car. And when they get that much closer to a major clue, I was almost fist-pumping excited. The energy of the book totally captures the experience of the characters, and that’s awesome.

Similarly, I believe the emotional tone of the book perfectly captures the experience of being on the verge, about to move on to the next phase of your life. It’s a difficult time. I remember it being awful – stressful, scary, exciting. You’re ready to move on, and not ready at the same time, thrilled and terrified about what’s coming next. I can’t imagine I was all that much fun to be around the summer before I went to college, and Mary is not all that much fun to be around as a narrator. From a Slatebreaking point of view, she doesn’t start there. However, I still liked her. I empathized with her. And I saw her pushing to become the person she wants to be, and trying to figure out how to get there. So that, I think is Slatebreaking, or at least on the way to it. And I think her voice is crafted with so much realism and empathy, that she would be incredibly relatable to high school seniors. If you feel like a crazy scavenger hunt would be a fun way to spend a day with your high school BFFs, then you will probably have fun reading this book.

Reviewed from library copy

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