Prom season is upon us. You vowed you’d never partake in this antiquated social function, yet here you are, dressed in your finest. Whether you were pressured by insistent parents and friends or you succumbed to that ill-defined fear of “missing out,” you’re about to enter a room packed with some of your least favorite people.
Don’t panic. There’s no need to lock yourself in the nearest limo. Find a cozy corner — preferably well lit and at a safe distance from the dance floor — where you can hunker down with some pleasure reading. The occasion calls for a book starring antisocial teens and mischievous misfits — and we’ve got just the list:
1. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Fanny Price isn’t the prettiest or wittiest of Austen’s heroines: “She was small of her age, with no glow of complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice ….” Personality aside, Fanny is a sharp observer of human nature. Sitting alone in the corner gives her the perfect vantage point from which to judge her relatives. When she does speak up, it’s to point out the Bertrams’ hypocrisies. Okay, she’s a drip. But beneath her self-righteousness, Fanny is deeply lonely and insecure. The most moving passages in the novel describe her isolation. But fear not, the overlooked heroine gets a happy ending when she marries her cousin. In Austen’s day, marrying a cousin was no more taboo than, say, having your cousin as a prom date.
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This Victorian novel in three volumes is sure to keep you occupied for all of prom and any unavoidable after-parties. It has everything: arson, bigamy, Gothic terror, a Byronic hero and a plain, bookish heroine. Orphan Jane knows a thing or two about escaping reality through a good book. We first meet her curled up in the window seat of her aunt’s drawing room, curtains pulled around her while she reads Thomas Bewick’s A History of British Birds. Book in hand, she longs for flight. Years later when Jane begins work as a governess at Thornfield, her first order of business is to scout out the prime reading nooks. Sure enough, in moments of extreme social anxiety, Jane grabs a book and retires to the nearest window seat. Some evasion tactics never get old.
3. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
If by some fluke this wasn’t assigned reading during your high school career, now’s the time to pick up Salinger’s urtext of adolescent angst. Boarding school dropout and king of the catchphrases, Holden Caulfield is the rebellious teen that launched an entire subgenre of young adult literature. Following the disaffected Holden on his Manhattan exploits, you’ll forget you’re at prom, surrounded by the phonies, morons and sex maniacs of your graduating class.
4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Under the alias of Charlie, a quiet, introspective teen writes letters recounting his freshman year of high school. Chbosky’s epistolary novel is intimate and earnest — a perfect prom-night companion. Charlie is the kind of boy who falls under the radar, but his English teacher Bill recognizes something special in him. Bill assigns Charlie extra reading and encourages him to “participate” more outside the classroom. Charlie endures the ups and downs of the school year, from new friendship and first love, to depression and painful revelation. He discovers there’s power in being a wallflower: “You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”
5. This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
For some undefinable reason, 16-year-old Elise Dembowski is branded a social outcast. But she vows that sophomore year will be different: She’ll make the right friends, read the right magazines and wear the right clothes. Unfortunately, Elise doesn’t make it past lunch on the first day of school without embarrassment. Despite this, she finds a new beginning and an unexpected talent for DJing when she stumbles across an underground dance club, aptly named Start. Sitting apart in the private DJ booth, she hones the ability to read a crowd and control its energy with each song selection. I guarantee you’ll prefer Elise’s playlist — heavy on British Invasion and punk rock — to whatever pop mix your prom committee has put together.
6. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Every high school student indulges in the occasional revenge fantasy, but life isn’t a Stephen King novel, so forget about tormenting your peers with your hypothetical telekinesis. Trust me: Living and laughing well is the best revenge. The genius behind Mean Girls, Tina Fey is proof that those awkward adolescent years are survivable. If anything, your teen trauma can be mined for comedic gold in the future. So what if your prom attire and updo don’t stand the test of time? They can’t be much worse than Tina’s “child-sized colonial-lady outfit” and bowl cut.
From the Regency era to the new millennium, teenagers have struggled to make sense of it all. So when you feel like retreating to the sidelines at your next school dance, remember that you’re part of a larger community of teen characters and readers who’ve been there, too. High school will be over soon enough. Someday, like Chbosky’s Charlie, you’ll be able to say: “I was really there. And that was enough to make me feel infinite.”
Emma Kantor is a writer, performer and perennial publishing intern. Her work has appeared in The Book Report Network, The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism and the Journal of Italian Translation. Check out her improv team: Sunday Manatee
About the Book:
Hypnotizing us with the deceptively simple rhythm of the ordinary, We Were Flying to Chicago offers a moment of change: the view over the cliff, the breath before a decision, a sidelong glance of impending news. Award-winning writer Kevin Clouther skillfully slows time to note the visceral, emotional impact of an everyday moment.
A man drives to the wrong mountain, a hubcap cleaner moonlights as a karaoke star and a woman trusts a stranger on the bus. Each of the 10 stories in We Were Flying to Chicago is contemporary without being ironic or glib, offering a glimpse of stark vulnerability, faith and shared experience.
About the Author:
Kevin Clouther was born in Boston and grew up on Cape Cod and in South Florida. He holds degrees from the University of Virginia and Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he completed his thesis under Marilynne Robinson and won the Richard Yates Fiction Award for best short story. He has worked at The Iowa Review, Meridian and The Virginia Literary Review, where he served as fiction editor. He teaches creative writing at Stony Brook University, where he coordinates the Program in Writing Reading Series, and at John Hopkins. He has previously taught at Bridgewater College in Virginia, the University of Michigan Dearborn and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He lives in Floral Park, New York with his wife and two children.
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