Today is my beautiful niece (and Diana’s daughter) Victoria’s 18th birthday. In honor of the occasion, I thought I would post a review of The Best Night of Your Pathetic Life, a book that made me think of my niece — who is now the same age I was when she was born! Last weekend, Diana and her husband threw Victoria’s birthday party — a scavenger hunt through their local mall. The teens were broken up into two teams and were expected to answer a bunch of questions, collect a series of items, and take photographic/video evidence of everything from their entire team in sunglasses to a random couple’s love story. The characters in Tara Altebrando’s novel are doing the same thing — competing with other teams of seniors for the honor of winning their New York high school’s legendary scavenger hunt prize, a Yeti, bragging rights, and the privilege of planning the following year’s hunt.
The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando
Publisher: Dutton | 304 pages | July 5, 2012 | Buy it
An all-day scavenger hunt in the name of eternal small-town glory.
With only a week until graduation, there’s one last thing Mary and her friends must do together: participate in the Oyster Point High Official Unofficial Senior Week Scavenger Hunt.
And Mary is determined to win.
Mary lost her spot at Georgetown to self-professed “it” bully Jake Barbone, and she’s not about to lose again. But everyone is racing for the finish line with complicated motives, and the team’s all-night adventure becomes all-night drama as shifting alliances, flared tempers, and crushing crushes take over.
As the items and points pile up, Mary and her team must reinvent their strategy—and themselves—in order to win.
I read this entire book on a flight from Washington D.C. to Miami, which I thought was fitting, since I graduated from high school in the good ole 305. Mary’s story isn’t a swoony love story, but you know what, that made it all the more believable. Not that single-day stories can’t be incredibly romantic (read “Just One Day” by Gayle Forman for proof of that), but in this case, the romance is like a Shakespearean comedy: Mary has a crush on the wealthy and attractive Carson, who has a girlfriend but flirts with Mary’s best friend Winter, who really thinks Mary should return the affections of best guy friend Patrick, who definitely wants to be more than Mary’s best friend. But really, all that flirting and all those declarations of infatuation and unrequited love aren’t the point of the story.
Altebrando’s tale is about Mary and her team (the aforementioned Winter, Patrick, and Dez, the trio’s gay bestie) trying to have one big high school victory after four years stuck in the secondary tier of popularity and success. Mary, in particular, wants to — needs to — beat Jake Barbone, who got into Georgetown while Mary (who dreamed of being a Hoya) had to settle for George Washington. However irrationally, Mary thinks Jake “stole” her spot, and she really wants to do anything short of imprisonment to steal the Yeti from under Jake’s cocky nose.
Of course, if this were *just* about a scavenger hunt, the book would be little more than a passing diversion. But Altebrando’s crisp prose and authentic voice make this night in Mary and her friend’s lives a journey of self discovery, of revelation, of coming to terms with the fact college will change the dynamics of seemingly unconditional friendships. As the guy at the fast food drivethru says, these kids have “first world problems,” but that doesn’t mean most of us can’t relate. Everything is heightened when you’re graduating from high school, and sometimes you just can’t stand being an “also ran” for one more minute. You want to win more than anything. And you want to remember one grand moment when you and your friends stood apart, stood tall, and stood together.
I hope Victoria gets to experience those moments of clarity and victory in the next year, before she too heads to college.
“I want to remember this night for the rest of my life and I want to remember you in it, with me all the way.”
“It didn’t matter.
Carson wasn’t the one for me. He wasn’t even the one for right now. My life would hopefully have its great love story but this wasn’t it. It would happen in D.C. in the next four years or it would happen in Africa, if I ever got there, or in Sienna or, for all I knew, Kentucky or Timbuktu.”
“It was enough to make me feel like retreating into some wooded or snowy clime, where only the most determined photographers or Mary-hunters might find me.”