Whether they love it or love to hate it, prom is a big rite of passage for many teens. Consequently, prom — with all the related excitement and anxiety — makes frequent appearances in YA novels. Here are a few of our favorite prom-centric reads. (On the more love-to-hate-it end of the spectrum, Roger also suggests Stephen King’s Carrie.) More recommended prom reading — plus a few prom pictures of HB staff members! — is here. And speaking of rites of passage, don’t miss our graduation gift booklist.
Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Prom Dates from Hell (Delacorte, 2007) stars Maggie, a wisecracking photographer for her high-school paper and reluctant heir to her grandmother’s gift of “the Sight.” Using this ability, Maggie deduces that the demon cursing the school’s popular crowd will reach full power at…senior prom. Buffy fans will relish the unflappable, edgy humor. Though the logistics aren’t as tight as they might be, Maggie’s narration is consistently entertaining.
In Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber (Houghton, 2011), Perry’s parents make him take awkward Lithuanian exchange student Gobi to the prom. Turns out she’s actually a trained assassin, and Perry’s forced at gunpoint to trek through New York with her as she completes her mission. Perfect for action-adventure junkies, Schreiber’s novel also contains enough humor, sexual tension, and character development to make this more than just a quick thrill read.
High school senior Danielle has OCD, no friends, and a hopeless crush on popular jock Jacob. On the plus side, she has plenty of support, a passion for literature, and a wicked sense of humor. In a social skills class, Danielle makes friends with Daniel, who soon introduces her to the cult film The Big Lebowski and its credo of “takin’ ’er easy.” A fantastic prom, a bonding road trip to Lebowski Fest, and an emotional graduation bring Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s debut novel OCD, the Dude, and Me (Dial, 2013) to a feel-good conclusion swelling with happiness.
In Nancy Werlin’s Impossible (Dial, 2008) a generations-old family curse renders seventeen-year-old Lucy pregnant (the result of a supernaturally orchestrated rape at prom) and destined for insanity unless she completes three seemingly impossible tasks. The delicious conceit of inflicting a fairy-tale conundrum on a modern-day high schooler means that Lucy employs Google and eBay, along with old-fashioned true love, in her suspenseful battle to break the curse.
When Lucas asks best friend Tessa to prom, she tells him she’s a lesbian. Embarrassed, Lucas outs her and her wish to bring a girl to prom, sparking outrage in their Indiana town. Tension builds as the community turns on Tessa, while Lucas struggles to make everything right. Alternating points of view narrate Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin’s Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom (Walker, 2012) an emotional, character-driven story about friendship and acceptance.
Ashley Hannigan is more concerned with finding an apartment with her boyfriend than with the one night that has all the other kids at her urban high school enthralled. But when the event is threatened, Ashley single-handedly saves the prom in between exhausting shifts at the pizza place. Few adolescent girls will be able to resist Laurie Halse Anderson’s modern fairy tale Prom (Viking, 2005).
In The Not-So-Great Depression by Amy Goldman Koss (Roaring Brook, 2010), ninth grader Jacki approaches life with a glass-half-full attitude — even when recession hits her California town . This serves her well when her family must downgrade its lifestyle. As Jacki daydreams about giving her sister a prom dress and finding her mom a job, admirers will be captivated by her clumsy charm and the realization that a little optimism goes a long way.