REVIEW: Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin
Dear Ms. Masterson and Mr. Halpin:
My interest in this book was piqued by an off hand remark but excited remark by The BookSmugglers. When it became available for review, I requested it. I’m a casual reader of Young Adult fiction books and my tastes run toward the YA romances more than issue books but the duality of the narrators in addition to the subject matter was intriguing. I haven’t read much backstory on this book, but I assume it was birthed out of the 2010 controversy involving Constance McMillen who wanted to attend prom with her girlfriend. The pattern of events are loosely followed in the book but given an added dimension as the tale unfolds via the viewpoint of Lucas Fogelman and Tessa Masterson, best friends since forever.
Lucas awakens to the realization that the reason he has never had any serious girlfriend is because he is in love with his best friend, Tessa Masterson. Lucas is all about the big gesture and it’s amusing to see the male in the role of the romantic. Lucas blames his propensity for loud action on his mother’s love for the chick flick. “Our house is not that big, so there’s no real way to escape them” he tells the reader. But Lucas’s nature is that of a risk taker and this character trait serves him well in the end.
When Lucas asks Tessa to prom it is in a big and public way and everyone is relieved. His mother, her parents. Even people on the street are honking their approval because in Lucas and Tessa’s small town, everyone knows that they are destined to be together. But Tessa has awoken to a different realization and that is she is a lesbian. Lucas is humiliated and strikes out against Tessa with some careless, but harmful words. These words will come back to haunt him when the controversy regarding Tessa ramps up.
Tessa is the opposite of Lucas. She’s quiet and somewhat reserved. She has a hard time expressing her feelings and the big gesture to her is probably slapping someone on the shoulder. Coming out to her friends and family pushes Tessa into a very uncomfortable place.
While I liked the dual narration, I was fairly disappointed in Tessa’s narrative. Tessa is the pivotal person in the story. She decides she wants to go to prom with her girlfriend. She decides that she will sue the school. Her actions result in large and unintended consequences. Yet we receive very little insight as to why Tessa is making these decisions, particularly given the type of character we are to believe she is. When the news crews come to interview her, Tessa can barely manage two words about why it is she is taking this action. It’s not that I felt that Tessa had to be articulate about her actions but I wanted to understand what motivated her. Every action Tessa took had significance and so little of it was accompanied by any thoughtfulness. Tessa wasn’t portrayed as being thoughtless though but shutting down prom for a cause; getting lawyers involved; challenging the school board were all bold actions and I wanted to see whether she agonized over these decisions in any way.
Perhaps it was a conscious decision to make Tessa’s point of view be less focused on the macro events around her and more focused on the intimate details thus portraying her as a “normal” teen. But even the romance between her and her girlfriend felt tepid.
Lucas, on the other hand, was a strong voice and carried the story for me. He acted out of haste and hurt feelings and became a kind of poster child for the anti gay movement in his hometown. His mother gave him hell for it.. As the story progresses, Lucas realizes that the big gesture isn’t the most meaningful or the most helpful, that some of his humiliation is his own fault. Sometimes the best big gesture is a series of small ones, such as joining the Facebook page in support of the Masterson family, wearing a t shirt that supports Tessa, or just refusing to be bullied into a differing position.
I absolutely loved the relationship between Lucas and his mother. Lucas’ mother had gotten pregnant as a teen and returned to the small town where she grew up. Most people looked down on her but Tessa’s parents gave her a job. She’s the kind of mom that I want to be when I grow up. A straight shooter with a great relationship with her kid. She doesn’t hesitate to tell Lucas that he screwed up but she loves him unconditionally.
For anyone who followed the Courtney McMillen story, the events spool out in much the same manner. There are no surprises here. The school archetypes are all represented but I appreciated the gamut of teens from the snooty, holier than thou purity ring girls, to the foul mouthed jocks, to the kids who quietly surprise you with their fortitude. Unfortunately this is a story that will likely play out across the nation for several years until GLBT kids are considered as ordinary as the heterosexual kids. I am hopeful that time is coming.
I felt like I knew Lucas much better by the end of the story. His character had more dimension but I wanted to know Tessa in a much deeper way. I do appreciate, though, that true love isn’t always a romantic one. B-