Roundtable: Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson
Current Mood: awake
Current Song: Basement Apartment by Sarah Harmer
Come dance with us through the pages of Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson, the readergirlz book selection for June. The postergirlz and readergirlz divas are honored to have a. fortis and TadMack, the two ladies from the Finding Wonderland book blog, join us for this roundtable.
Kick off your heels, pull up a chair, and discover what we thought of the book and of our real proms. Refreshments and real pictures will be served at the end of the discussion, so please keep reading!
Little Willow: Let's start with the obvious question: Who here has been to a real-life prom?
Mitali Perkins: I went to prom with my high school boyfriend. It was at the swanky Claremont Inn in Berkeley, California. I turned up wearing the same dress as another girl -- who looked better in it than me, unfortunately. I spent the entire night avoiding this svelte stranger.
Dia Calhoun: I went to a very small alternative high school. They didn't offer a prom. I had friends from other schools who went, though, and I can remember both their nerves and excitement. I loved the dresses.
Lorie Ann Grover: My principal was actually my backup date. He agreed to take me if I didn't find a guy to go with myself. Well, I did find one. But then I couldn't find a dress long enough. I ended up wearing a wedding gown. My date wore a top hat to be as tall as me. Can you picture it? Oh, my.
TadMack: I went to boarding school, and we didn't have proms. [Instead] we had these huge fancy dinner-and-a-movie dealies which sometimes included other entertainment like a comedian or whatever. My junior year I went to every single one of them, since my friend Ted was desperately trying to avoid being asked by a certain persistent girl. He told her every time he had a date -- me. (Man, she hated me.) Senior year, Ted was gone, and I found it much more fun to be the dorm stylist. I spent the afternoon prior to the evening event dolling up hair and doing makeup for everyone else. Good times, those!
a. fortis: I did go to prom my senior year. Mostly because it seemed like one of those high school events that I ought to experience at least once. My friends were planning to go in a big group, whether or not we had dates. Then, I asked two different guys to go and was rejected by both of them. Happily, I had heard about a guy friend who was thinking of asking me, so then I got one of our mutual friends to prod HIM to ask ME. We had a nice, fun, platonic time. Our group of about 10 people ate at the Olive Garden (which seemed fancy at the time) and then danced the night away. I remember really liking my dress because a) it was not expensive, and b) it was this black lacy thing that looked like it belonged on a saloon girl. Also, there was free bowling at our prom -- the locale had a bowling alley in the basement...
LW: I went to a public high school. I didn't go to prom. No desire. I prefer attending fictional proms, such as that in Anderson's novel.
HipWriterMama: I laughed with Ashley's initial reaction to the prom. I felt the exact same way. But then my high school crush asked me to go and everything changed.
LW: What did you all think of the narrator, Ashley?
Mitali: I loved Ashley's voice.
a. fortis: Although I didn't identify with Ashley, I like her -- she is very honest and down-to-earth.
Lorie Ann: I liked Ashley. I liked her voice and reasonable down-to-earth character.
LW: Why do you think she calls herself "a normal kid?" What does that mean to her? To you?
Lorie Ann: I think she'd define "normal" as having practical aspirations for her future. Ones that would offer her a simple life with simple pleasures. I'd define a normal kid as one who takes time to relax amidst pursuits.
a. fortis: It seems like Ashley views herself as "not special," which isn't true. She isn't from a particularly well-off family background, she's not the greatest student, she has to juggle work, school, family, and friends. It's not a fairy-tale life, in other words. I think that "normal" can encompass a pretty huge range in high school. There are so many different high school experiences. Mine was nothing like Ashley's, but in hindsight, I still think it was pretty normal in many respects. Of course, I'm not really sure what "normal" means. Seriously.
HWM: Ashley did the best she could, considering her living situation and what she was exposed to. Overall, she was a good kid, knew when to get out of bad situations and had compassion for the underdog.
Mitali: I got her affection for her family as well as her irritation -- that's what defined her normalcy for me.
TadMack: Ashley is the epitome of 'normal' -- somebody balancing life and unreliable people and a stupid job and school busywork and doing what it takes to get by. That IS normal life for everyone, some people choose to put more into certain things and less into others, but that juggling act is what everyone does.
Dia: Ashley is a normal kid, academically, socially, with the problems most kids have. She doesn't see herself as special in any way, though I think her loyalty to her Natalia is outstanding.
LW: Ashley is humiliated when she has to dress up like a rat for her job at EZ-CHEEZ-E. Have you ever had a similar experience?
HWM: Thankfully, no. I have admiration for people who dress up in costumes for work, but I'm not sure I could do that.
a. for: I don't have ANY particularly humiliating job horror stories. I did a lot of humdrum office work, even as a teenager. I did have one boss who was English who would occasionally lose his cool and call people "wretched peasants," but that's about it.
TadMack: (HA! Wretched PEASANTS!?) Summer camp. Yellow wig. Rodeo clown. Need I say more?
LW: Oh, no. Oh, my.
Lorie Ann: I dressed as a flamingo from Alice in Wonderland for my job in the South Dade Regional Library System. Can I just say, that was a lot of leg? Thankfully, I wasn't treated in any way like Ashley!
Mitali: I never had to put on a costume, but I have been embarrassed on the job, partly because I used to be (and still am, really) VERY shy with the opposite sex. In high school, I worked in the young men's department at Macy's, for example. When I did a cleanup sweep of clothes strewn around the dressing room I kept my eyes down while my cheeks burned. Why? Because usually one or two of the stalls were taken, and guys don't seem to bother shutting doors like we girls do.
Dia: That part of the book was hilarious. I have never had to wear a costume to work in, but I can now say, thanks to Laurie's fine writing, that I've experienced it.
LW: In the book, the prom's faculty advisor steals the money for the event, and Natalia, head of the prom committee and Ashley's best friend, is shocked. What would you have done if you were in Natalia's shoes?
a. fortis: I'm trying to think what I would have done at the time... I'd like to think I would have tried to come up with creative solutions to the budget problem, but I wasn't ever part of student government or the group of kids who organized these things, so it's hard to say.
Lorie Ann: I think Natalia's campaign rocked! I've been in Natalia's shoes. A school official "borrowed" money from one of our student accounts.
LW: Oh my goodness!
Lorie Ann: We went to the principal - Maybe ensuring my prom date if I needed him. Who knows? Anyway, she was removed. Maybe after returning the money? I don't remember.
HWM: I wouldn't have been involved in a prom committee when I was in high school, so I'm not sure what I'd do. Natalia was the head of the committee for a reason -- she was one who thrived on organization and creating a memorable event -- so she did what she did best.
TadMack: I would have SO changed the event. We would have had a huge picnic or a hoe down, or something. I could not have coped with the whole Big Fancy Dance package.
Dia: Natalia's prom dream was so important to her. When a dream is that important, and disaster strikes, you get creative. You start thinking of other ways to accomplish your dream. Just as Natalia did, with Ashley's help.
Mitali: I'm not the organizing type, so I wouldn't be in Natalia's shoes. I'd be in Monica's dress, worrying about the twenty pounds I still have to lose.
TadMack: Dress? Dress?!! If I can't wear pants, I'm not coming.
LW: Are you more like Ashley or Natalia?
a. fortis: I have to be honest; I don't think I'm like either of them!
HWM: I'm probably a mix of the two. Like Natalia, I'm the friend that would be warning someone about their boyfriend and trying to get my friend involved in other things. Like Ashley, I'd be wishy-washy about things until a defining moment gives me courage to make a change.
Lorie Ann: I'm a mix of both depending on the day. Sometimes girly, sometimes practical.
Mitali: I'm definitely like Natalia when it comes to foreign grandmothers -- mine came to visit from India when I was a teenager and I LOVED that Nat's Grandma was a catalyst for change in the story -- but I think I'm more like Ashley when it comes to loving a few friends and family fiercely but sort of secretly. I like playing it cool on the outside and coming across like a loner.
TadMack: Hee! I like playing it cool, too. But I'm SO not.
Dia: I am obsessed like Natalia. When there's something I really want I zoom forward, shake it in my teeth like a dog with a beloved toy.
TadMack: I'm definitely more Ashley. I am just not a joiner -- okay, wait. Rewind. Let me say, I might join, but then I'll be geeky and ill-at-ease the whole time and wish I'd stayed true to my "I'm not a joiner" answer!
LW: In Prom, Natalia and Ashley are next-door neighbors. Do any of you have best friends that live next door, or did you when you were younger?
TadMack: No, never. But then, it would have scared me to have my best friend so close. How do people stay best friends with that much face time? Unless she was equally freaky as me, that might not have worked!
Mitali: I moved around too much. My best friend lived under my roof, though, and came with me -- my sister.
Dia: I loved having best friends living next door, or in my case, across the street. I had this until about the six grade. It allowed for so much spontaneity. Get the urge to talk or hang out or ride bikes, and I just went next door. I used to eat over there a lot too -- Norma made the world's best fried chicken!
Lorie Ann: I can imagine how fun it would be. Although now I live with my bestie: my husband.
a. fortis: No [next-door best friends], though I have had close friends who lived within walking or biking distance. And then, after college, I lived with a houseful of friends for two years, which was awesome, but I'm not sure that it counts.
LW: There weren't any other kids my age in the neighborhood where and when I grew up, but I didn't mind. I was extremely close to my older sister and my mother, not to mention my cats. I also never really related to my peers.
HWM: I lived with my college best friend and her family for about 5 months when I graduated from college and moved to Boston. They were amazing.
LW: Do you have different friends in different places - say, friends at school or work, then other friends in the neighborhood?
Lorie Ann: Yes, I have friends in different places.
Dia: I definitely had different groups of friends. Those at school. Those at Ballet School. Those at the Y. And more in Girl Scouts. I loved living in all these different worlds.
HWM: In high school, I floated around in different groups. I was friends with the smart kids, the musically inclined, the popular group, the jocks. I've been fortunate because I've always had different groups of friends.
LW: I think I could say the same. Do or did your groups of friends overlap at all?
Lorie Ann: It's always mind-blowing when they overlap. Happens at my book release parties. Oh, dear. Everyone meets everyone. They've all heard about each other for years. It's a fun but nervy confluence.
a. fortis: In high school I definitely had different groups of friends, even at school -- sometimes there was overlap, but sometimes I'd just sort of float around from group to group: the nerdy smart kids, the drama club, the artsy goth kids. Even now, I have different groups of friends.
Mitali: In high school, I roamed from circle to circle, never settling down to one, and loved the fact that each one welcomed me and gave me freedom to graze. I still do that.
TadMack: I definitely have friends in different places . . . and never the twain shall meet. Unless they want to. Without me introducing them. And then they're on their own. I like the word 'graze' in this respect. I imagine walking around, nibbling on all the goodness diverse friends have to offer...
LW: I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone. Some struggled to make ends meet, while others "got along" or "did all right," so I suppose the majority of the town would fall into the middle class category. Even then, there were definitely those who made less money than others. Were most of the students at your high school from the same social class?
Mitali: Not really.
TadMack: Definitely not.
HWM: To tell you the truth, I'm not sure. They probably were, though. I never really thought about this stuff when I was in high school. It wasn't until I was in college that I became conscious of the haves and have nots. But that was also because I was exposed to wealthy, wealthy kids.
a. fortis: I think most of the students at my high school were upper-middle-class or lower, with very few really rich kids. It was partially a factor of the neighborhood the school was in - near a university but also near a working-class part of town - and the fact that it had the IB [International Baccalaureate] program gave it more diversity, too.
TadMack: Boarding school had the very rich -- we had an Elle model who regularly jetted to Rome -- and then we had, um, me. Who worked twenty hours a week at a stained glass factory (which was indeed very cool - I learned to work a band saw!) and was scholarship all the way.
LW: I can't think of any families who were extraordinarily wealthy. Wealth is a foreign concept to me. My mother, the fantastic lady that she is, worked full-time and raised two daughters on a single income.
Dia: The kids in my alternative school came from all kinds of different economic backgrounds. I met more upper-class kids at Ballet School.
Lorie Ann: Most of my high school came from the same social class, but we had three distinct races represented: Caucasian, Latino, and African American -- about one-third of each when I attended.
Mitali: Most of us were middle class (no "upper" in sight), and some of us were from low-income families. No luxury-rich people in my high school; at least not that we knew about.
LW: Combining the last two topics: Did your friends of different social classes intermingle, at school or otherwise?
a. fortis: I think so. Our high school was not particularly clique-ish, which was good. I mean, it was still high school, but I definitely had friends of different social classes and they did intermingle. Any clique-ishness did not seem based on social class, though maybe I was oblivious.
Lorie Ann: The races didn't mingle much. Although on sports teams or for activities we did. I had my first pork rinds and hot sauce with my basketball teammates.
TadMack: My friends of varying social classes intermingled, but then, I think they had to because they were friends with me. I was obviously from very working class circumstances, but I was academically "elevated" and tried out for drama and auditioned for musical groups that were usually the territory of the privileged kids. It kind of mixed things up a little for my friends in both camps.
Mitali: [My friends] intermingled, although we weren't too diverse of a group (besides me, of course). It shocks me that some American parents in 2008 still organize separate proms for black teens and white teens. The black kids choose a prom queen and the white kids choose a prom queen. Can you believe it?
TadMack: Mitali, NO WAY! Seriously? That's... that's... hmmph. Going to have to think about that.
Dia: That's unbelievable! How can that happen in this day and age? I'd think it would be illegal.
LW: That is just... (shaking her head) Shocking. Saddening. Frustrating. I could rant about that for a while.
HWM: That is really sad. As an adult, I'm more conscious of social classes than when I was a teen. It is sad and frustrating. Unfortunately, it is also a reality. Hopefully, our society will grow more flexible once people truly accept differences.
LW: What was your favorite part of the book?
Dia: I found the book refreshing because it really was about a normal kid with an unusually big heart. For many, I think prom is a rite of passage into the adult world. It was especially satisfying to see that the kids had to really work to make the prom happen -- as you must really work for things in adult life -- it wasn’t simply handed to them.
Mitali: I loved when and how Ashley decided to break up with TJ, who was more complex than your typical loser boyfriend. I also loved that this novel wasn't about white-collar, upper-to-middle class college-bound teens. For once. You go, Laurie H.
Dia: My favorite part was the ending. Not to give too much away, but Ashley really comes into her own by doing something to help a friend. I love her transformation.
Lorie Ann: I'd say when the grandma is in the pool. I love that image. And, of course, when someone receives her dress...
(Dia also talked about the dress, and then we all considered the ending of the book. We didn't include that part of our discussion here because we didn't want to spoil it for those who have yet to read the book.)
a. fortis: I thought the voice was really well done. I'm glad that Ashley (despite her assertions of being a normal kid) is not the typical high-school narrator. Also, I can't help it but I really like watching characters who triumph despite horrible, ever-worsening, overwhelming odds.
Mitali: I listened to the book on audio during a long drive to Saratoga Springs for a book event, and highly recommend it. Actor Katherine Kellgren conveys the accents and personalities so dynamically through the power of her voice -- especially of Ashley's convoy of aunts and mother.
TadMack: I agree, Mitali -- the fact that this book was solidly written about an ordinary girl who worked, whose parents worked, who is just like every other girl, no matter what her circumstance, was a really awesome thing. I think young adult novels sometimes wade into wish fulfillment territory and stay there overlong -- and then we are all of the dominant culture, we are all of the upper middle class or incredibly wealthy, or all cheerleaders and have a perfect B+ average -- and that's just not true. The world is bigger than that, and has many more voices. I LOVE that Laurie Halse Anderson took a step back from the stereotype. She kind of gives me, as a writer, courage. I imagine girls who aren't prom-crazy read this and say a little "whew!" that somewhere someone else doesn't think that the prom is the end-all, be-all of high school.
readergirlz at prom
We have a photo album to share with you! Watch the readergirlz promenade through the decades.
Phil, years before he became the father to one of our postergirlz
Lorie Ann Grover
Julie: That's me, in the center, as senior prom queen 1980 at Luck High School in Luck, WI. On my right is King George, our school's foreign exchange student from Mexico that year. On my left, Bruce Rowe (nice sideburns, Bruce!) who is now Luck's local mortician.
C. Leigh Purtill
Leigh: This is a picture of me with John Taylor, my very first boyfriend but sadly not the guitarist in Duran Duran, as we are getting ready to go to his senior prom in (gulp!) 1982. Note the fluffy permed hair on Leigh and the white tails on John. Lovely. It all screams "welcome to the 80s." I'm so surprised I didn't choose a dress with shoulder pads.
Amanda: Here's me in 1983 with a Farrah flip -- come to think of it, my boyfriend has the flip going on, too.
Susane: I insisted that me prom date wear a matching cummerbund and tie. Electric blue, anyone?
Carrie: This is me with Joe. Joe turned out to be gay. He was the best boyfriend ever obviously since he went to the prom with me despite the fact that I was wearing this pink monstrosity of a dress. From now on the dress will be referred to as BERTHABELINDAGOGOS. Check out the bottom part of BERTHABELINDAGOGOS! You could make five dresses for Paris Hilton out of that... that... Oh! What is the name for the bottom part of a dress? You can tell I am no good at dressmaking terms. Oh... yeah... hemline?
Carrie Jones, her date, and her dog
Carrie: Please try to ignore my hair and the fact that we are holding my dog, Shelly Belly, and gazing at each other in a total Lifetime Movie sort of way and that Shelly Belly is ALSO GAZING AT JOE IN A TOTAL LIFETIME MOVIE SORT OF WAY!!! Shelly Belly! I never knew.
Yes. Those are two different pink dresses. Yes. Joe and I went to two different proms together, two years in a row. Yes. My mother made us pose in front of the fireplace EACH TIME!!!
Note that we went to the post-prom party because you could win things (I WON A SAVINGS BOND, WHICH PAID FOR A COMPUTER, WHICH SET ME ON THE COURSE OF BEING A WRITER) and because there was free pizza!
Jennifer and friends
Jennifer: I am the queen mother in the front row, center.
Krissy and her date
Krissy and her friend share a dance with Brad Pitt
Related Posts and Additional Links
Discuss Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson at the readergirlz forum.
Check out my interview with Laurie Halse Anderson.
Want to attend additional fictional proms? Print out my Prom booklist!