High school senior Justina Griffith was never the girl who dreamed of going to prom. Designer dresses and strappy heels? Not her thing.
So she never expected her best friend, Ian Clark, to ask her. Ian, who promised her the most amazing night at prom.
And then ditched her.
I'd seen people online mention a funny book called Ditched, the debut YA novel by author Robin Mellom. It being contemporary (you know me) I didn't wonder about it much. At some point I began following Mellom on Twitter and clicked a link that took me to an excerpt of the book (read the Prologue and Chapter 1 for yourself HERE). So what did I think?
The title of the book may be Ditched, but after reading the preview, I was hooked.
The first thing that grabs you about Ditched is the humor. I loved how Mellom wrote this. Justina, the protagonist, has such a clear voice and quirky personality and that made things feel both honest and enjoyable. Everything about the writing from the word choice to the tone to the structure was pitch perfect. I giggled and chuckled all over the place. Even the chapter titles were humorous.
A unique thing about this book is that it switched back and forth from the present - Justina at a 7-Eleven - to flashbacks of her prom night the evening before. Usually flashbacks are not that great, but the back and forth was fun. Justina recalling her disastrous evening had its own humor while her flashbacks felt like you were getting the clues to a (funny) mystery. Coupled with the great writing, this made the book not only easy to read, but also fun. I was caught up in Justina's tale of a prom gone so-very wrong and loving every minute of it.
While this story does have a traditional setting, it didn't really play so much a part of the story other than as acting as the backdrop to the crazy events of Justina's prom. But the feeling the setting exudes overall is a familiar one. Ever see the movie Pretty in Pink? What about Sixteen Candles? This book has the atmosphere that those movies did, and its a good thing. It makes the book comfortable but not cheesy.
The town and the locations the visited or mentioned are somewhat referential to the characters. For instance, Justina's prom takes place a fancy hotel, then later, she goes to two different parties at two much-less-fancy hotels. The neighborhoods go from the rich kind to the not-so-rich kind. There is a fast food joint, a novelty shop, and a convenience store. There is also the rival high school, which is noted for being less classy than the one Justina attends. The settings are varied and multiple, like the characters, and offer up the right stages for the hijinks occurring in the story.
Justina is both your typical high school girl and not your typical protagonist. She has a lot of quirks, some from nature, some nurtured, but she also cares about things that other girls care about, even if she herself doesn't realize it. Her voice is very distinct and has the kind of pacing and humor I see in real life. I loved that she had an "assumption addiction" and how she came to understand that she was part of her own problem and got in her own way.
Ian, Justina's friend and prom date, was a pretty good character. We see him mostly in flashbacks but I liked what I saw. He appreciated Justina's quirks and was not judgmental of her. To be honest, he was almost too nice. I think that was his one flaw, being too good. It actually plays a part in the story, so that was interesting.
The rest of the characters include a wide variety of people, and they felt like the people you would know in high school. They also fit that John Hughes theme, but many of them also had growth and progression in the story, so it was cool to see that from side characters.
DOWNSIDE:This was a book I had so much fun reading and I really had no qualms with it until the very end. I felt like the resolution was so quick and a little too easy for Justina. Yes, she did apologize, but all was forgiven too readily and I felt like it would have been a little more satisfying if there had been just a tad bit of doubt about that outcome. There was doubt for Justina, but not for the reader.
Not only is this a fun and crazy story, but the presentation is pretty cool too. We don't just figure out what happened randomly, we follow Justina's night by running down the list of her stains and injuries, which I thought was a neat way to go about things. There were also pictures to illustrate throughout the chapters, which was an interesting touch.
I also enjoyed the two main adult characters in the story, Gilda and Donna. They were awesome. I loved their perspectives on Justina's situation and their insight. They added that voice of reason and them being adults gave their advice credibility.
Lastly, I liked that the romance in this story is subtle. It's a story about two friends falling for each other in the small moments, the unexpected moments. I loved how that's where you saw it happen instead of the whole book being about their relationship. I mean, it kind of all was about their relationship, but in a roundabout way through Justina's wild night.
VERDICT:This book is a romantic puzzle with the pieces scattered throughout the snarky-fun heroine's disastrous prom night. Figuring it out is a fun ride that also has a lot of heart. While it will remind readers of some of John Hughes' best, Ditched: A Love Story is a unique contemporary that will keep you reading, imagining the scenes as easily as if they were on film, and anticipating that feel-good happy ending.