Published by Simon Pulse on October 4, 2011
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
A sweet and clever novel about the woes of (boy) history repeating itself, from the author of Mostly Good Girls.
All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend, hone her talents as an ice cream connoisseur, and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra’s working there too. Which makes moving on and forgetting Ezra a lot more complicated…even when Chelsea starts falling for someone new.
Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off-limits, all Chelsea knows is that she’s got a lot to figure out about love. Because those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it….
Diversity: 1 – Tokenism
Racial-Ethnic: 1 (Chelsea is a Ukrainian Jewish girl; her camp’s teens are led in the “war” by a black girl named Tawny)
Good God, I’ve been waiting to read this for YEARS just for the historical reenactment stuff. History is kinda my thing? I was one of the handful of kids who enjoyed field trips to historical sites like the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Clinch. (I’ll always regret being a racist little shitnugget and buying a Confederate hat there when I was thirteen.) Still, Sales’s other novels failed me badly. Of course I’d be worried I wouldn’t like it!
To tell the truth, I nearly DNFed the book in the first fifty pages thanks to delightful quotes like “I can’t see hating something that isn’t even real. That’s like hating centaurs or natural blondes” (page seven) or the following gem:
“[History nerds are] mostly pale-skinned, reedy, acne-scarred boys in glasses […]. I don’t know if they were born so unappealing, and turned to history for companionship because they realized they were too grotesque to attract real-life friends, or if […] they could have turned out hot but instead they invested their energy in watching twelve-hour documentaries about battleships.”
That was on page one.
But I swear, it gets better once you get through Chelsea’s judgmental bull and actually get into the Colonial kids’ war with the Civil War kids. For years, the two historical sites have been in competition with one another in business, but the teens who work there during the summer have their own prank war between them. From kidnapping lieutenants to hiding cell phones all over the site (both places take “never break character or have anything anachronistic” very seriously), the prank war is the book’s best selling point. It’s absolutely ridiculous and really, really fun.
There’s also the meet-cute Chelsea has with her love interest Dan. He’s the one watching her/interrogating her when she’s snatched from her camp and taken to the Civil War camp. Their romance is a rocky one since Chelsea is still reeling from her break-up with douchebag Ezra and Chelsea also does some not-great things to Dan that ensure the Colonial camp’s victory in the war.
Luckily, Past Perfect earns points in its favor because it’s reminiscent of a book I wrote years ago and still hold dear to my heart. The two books touch on similar themes of dysfunctional romantic relationships and girls who can’t make their present ones work because their memories of romances past are suddenly very selective. Without this, I’d be much less generous with Past Perfect‘s good points and even more bothered by its flaws.
So what kills this book? Buckets and buckets of girl hate. Because yeah, there’s a lot of it. Though Chelsea grows in leaps and bounds as she learns the reality of her relationship with Ezra wasn’t as sweet as her memories of it, that’s one area she doesn’t show much improvement in.
Admittedly, there’s one scene in the novel where the Popular Mean Girls of the Colonial camp run into their own Popular Mean Girl classmates. Their status in the camp is just that: only in the camp. When school is in session, they’re in the same position that Chelsea is in during the summer. But with the characters written the way they are, it isn’t enough for me.
One particular scene I love: when Chelsea is blabbering on with more girl hate and the Popular Mean Girl she’s talking to clearly just wants her to shut up. That’s at the end of the novel and probably not meant to be as funny as it is.
Then all’s well that ends well and Chelsea gets her guy and everyone lives happily ever after. Meanwhile, I’m left merely whelmed. I’m so whelmed that this is how I end my damn review. I can’t come up with anything else!
I get it now. Leila Sales’s books are 100% Not For Me. If I’m not DNFing her books, I’m finding myself dissatisfied when I reach the last page. That’s okay! An author can’t please every single reader and a reader can’t be into every single author’s books. It’s simply impossible. But among Sales’s books, this one is clearly the best, albeit still heavily flawed.