Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Review: Past Perfect by Leila Sales
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Chelsea Glaser does not want to spend another summer sweltering in colonial dresses and answering to the name Elizabeth Connelly at the Essex Historical Colonial Village. She just wants to get over the boy who broke her heart -- but that may prove difficult when he starts working there too. Luckily for Chelsea, a new vista of opportunity appears the night she's kidnapped and held hostage by a cute boy in a longstanding war...that is, if she's willing to turn traitor.
In Past Perfect, Leila Sales writes with a fresh and biting voice that is both hilarious and insightful. The style of the novel is almost reminiscent of internet speech, with plenty of italics and zippy one liners. It is fun and familiar, an easy and entertaining style that pulls readers into the rhythm of the novel. Adding to the novelty is the quirky and unexpected element of living history. The plot centers around an ongoing rivalry between two reenactment tourist traps -- Essex, the Revolutionary War town where Chelsea works, and their rival in a secret war, Civil War Reenactmentland. This unique element brings a fascinating flavor to the tale, immersing readers in the likely unknown world of war reenactment, and the relevance of history to modern life. Sales cleverly traces her heroine's growth through historical parallels, reminding both Chelsea and readers that those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it -- a lesson crucial to Chelsea's transformation.
Chelsea is snarky and sometimes a little abrasive, but she's also just a teenage girl going through the same trials everyone experiences during adolescence. Her heartbreak over her recent (and apparently ugly) break-up is heartfelt, and will resonate with readers of all ages. Though her best friend Fiona can be a little harsh, it is clear she has Chelsea's best interests at heart, even if that means a little tough love. Fiona has a point about Chelsea's need to move on, and her inability to remember the bad times with the good -- but the novel also acknowledges that it's easier said than done. No arbitrary expiration date can be placed on heartache, and only time can heal some wounds. Chelsea's growth over the course of the novel is masterfully written, showing her development from a sarcastic shell hiding a wounded girl, to an empowered teen who knows what a healthy relationship looks like and what kind of love she deserves.
Fortunately, Chelsea finds a much more worthy love interest in Dan. Unfortunately, he's the enemy -- setting off a Romeo and Juliet-esque tale of star-crossed love, though far sweeter and much less melodramatic. Dan is smart, passionate and kind, and he recognizes how special she is in a way that her ex-boyfriend never could. It is exciting to watch their illicit relationship develop through conversations about their hopes and dreams, family problems and secrets -- rather than mindless love-at-first-sight where they don't really know each other at all. Their clandestine encounters are steamy (though strictly PG), and there's just something irresistible about a forbidden love.
Past Perfect is simultaneaously realistic and delightfully outrageous. Though there is no magic or monsters, the idea of a bunch of teens waging all-out war -- with Generals and Lieutenants, kidnappings and espionage -- is an imaginative flight of fancy. However, I was disappointed in Chelsea's revenge tactics toward the end of the novel. So often in these scenarios, the hurt heroine will take ridiculously disproportionate revenge, making her seem cruel and bitter rather than sympathetic -- and Chelsea's betrayal late in the novel unfortunately falls into this category.
Past Perfect is a sweet contemporary read, full of laughs and love, fights and betrayals, history and hope. Chelsea's attitude and spunk will immediately endear her to readers, and Dan's charm and charisma will win their hearts. This is a thoughtful look at history -- both national and personal -- and the lessons learned in the process of growing up.
Disclosure: I received an advance galley from the publisher for an honest review.