Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Book Review: "How (Not) to Ask a Boy to Prom" by S.J. Goslee

Even though it reminds me of the late 1990s/early 2000s movies like She's All That, She's the Man, or 10 Things I Hate About You (albeit with a gay twist), S.J. Goslee's new book, How (Not) to Ask a Boy to Prom could easily be made into a movie right this second and still feel totally relevant and fresh. It's a sweet, slightly goofy book that's not perfect, but it's definitely a fun read.

Nolan Grant Sheffield is a slightly eccentric high school junior who would be more than happy just to ride the school year out without making any waves. He's perfectly happy hanging out with his best friend Evie, working at a greenhouse, and drawing, as well as tolerating (okay, maybe even enjoying) his adoptive family's ultra-competitiveness. Sure, he gets bullied a bit at school (gym class is torture), and he's not-so-quietly nurturing a crush on Si O'Mara, a gay football player at his school who is also president of the Gay-Straight Alliance.

However, he's never kissed anyone, much less been in a relationship. And his older sister Daphne is determined to change that—and much of Nolan's life—before she heads off to college in the fall. But Daphne's take-no-prisoners style isn't something Nolan is ready for when it comes to his life, especially his (lack of a) love life.

"Technically, to any outsider, this might look like Daphne is doing a favor for me. Technically, any outsider would be wrong."

Daphne wants to be sure Nolan is prepared for college, so she encourages/forces him to get involved in some extracurricular activities. And then, when her own relationship status changes, she essentially threatens him to find a date to the upcoming Junior-Senior Prom—or she'll find one for him.

From this point on, things go totally awry for poor Nolan. Suddenly he finds himself in the midst of fake dating, a menacing ex-girlfriend, an after-school art program with younger kids, and volunteering to help with the art for the prom as well as the after-prom party. And all the while, he's utterly confused about his feelings for two guys, confusion that bubbles over to Daphne and others as well.

How (Not) to Ask a Boy to Prom is a little bit zany but certainly a little bit predictable as well, although Goslee definitely kept me guessing until the very end with a few things. But while I liked the twists, one major one confused me, because the characters never fully discussed their feelings until the very end, and even then I wasn't sure what precipitated that. (I'm being purposely vague because I don't want to spoil things, although other Goodreads reviews do give more plot away.)

Goslee's books (I also enjoyed her first book, Whatever) are utterly charming, fun reads. They're not full of angst like so many other YA books, and they definitely treat sexual orientation in a matter-of-fact way rather than as a cause for drama. (Even an instance in which a male character begins dating another male after a two-year-relationship with a female character is met with confusion, but not ridicule.) Her dialogue is fresh without being pretentious or so sarcastic you think you're listening to stand-up comedians rather than high school students.

While I do wish that the characters were a little more fleshed out here so I could understand why they behaved the way they did, I enjoyed How (Not) to Ask a Boy to Prom quite a bit, and read the book in one day. It really charmed me, reminded me a little bit of my high school days and, at the same time, made me wish they resembled the book a little more, too.

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