The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando
Publication Date: July 5, 2012
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: scavenger hunt, graduation, crushes, geeky seniors
Format read: ARC from Penguin at ALA.
Summary: Four semi-geeky best friends, Mary, Des, Patrick, and Winter, compete to win the Unofficial Senior Scavenger Hunt as their last opportunity to prove themselves to their classmates before graduation.
Imagine putting Dawson, Joey, Pacey, and Jen, the four primary characters from Dawson’s Creek together in a car to complete a scavenger hunt. It’s almost graduation time and those ten hours in the car are when all chaos ensues because if the drama isn’t hashed out right then and there, what other chance will they have before everyone moves on to the next stage of their life?
Dawson’s got eyes only for Joey. (What’s new?)
Joey’s in love with someone else (let’s say Jack for right now).
Jen’s secretly also in love with Jack.
Pacey is harboring secrets of his own.
Dawson’s Creek is my blast from the past of choice because a) I’m currently re-watching it and b) that’s precisely how I pictured Patrick, Mary, Winter, and Des. They’re four highly intelligent students referred to as the Glee Club (though their school doesn’t even have one) who are entering the Unofficial Senior Scavenger Hunt. They want the opportunity to prove themselves to all the students (especially Barbone) who have berated them over the years. The stakes are high and the competition is fierce, but they’re committed. They want that one moment they can reflect upon when they’re older that says they left their mark.
The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life is told from Mary’s point of view. She’s full of tension because losing is not an option and if her parents found out she was galavanting around the town as a participant, she’d be screwed. Feelings for her longtime crush, Carson, intermix with her hopes of winning the hunt. She’s certain he’s going to break up with his girlfriend soon — especially since he’s bestowed so much attention upon her lately. (Yes, the girl lusted after a boy already tied down.)
If only there weren’t further complications.
Patrick wants to corner Mary during the scavenger hunt to express his feelings for her. He wants to move beyond being best friends. Mary also uncovers a secret that Winter has been keeping from her and she’s not sure how to continue on in the competition without exploding. Makes for an awkward ten-hour scavenger hunt, wouldn’t ya say?
Altebrando does a fantastic job at exploring the gamut of emotions we all go through when we graduate. Mary is caught in this awkward place of wanting to make something happen with Carson, but also not wanting to be tied down at all so she can make something of herself and travel the ends of the earth as an international ambassador. She wants to leave her town, but around every corner lies a different memory she’s afraid will escape her over time. She’s seeking closure, but is afraid of moving on. Everything in Mary’s life seems to be a paradox, a Catch-22.
With so many plot lines simultaneously weaving themselves into a big ball of confusion for Mary, Altebrando skillfully balances each issue. None of the plot lines outshines the others and the scavenger hunt still remains a fun, enjoyable journey to experience with these characters. Patrick’s LeSabre car and the items they cleverly pick up throughout the scavenger hunt, I think, are metaphorical for the places they will go, the things they will experience, and their friendship that will bond them together, despite college and moving on.
The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life will jerk you back to those moments in your life where you’ve felt the most out of control – when you weren’t certain what life held for you next. It’s a fun, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat kind of read that I hope absolutely everyone will enjoy.