Saturday, January 7, 2012

Past Perfect

My parents moved to Virginia two weeks after I started college. They live a 20-30 minute, depending on traffic, drive from Colonial Williamsburg. I have been many times. While there I have never wanted to ask the actors if they are hot. I know they are hot. I'm hot and I don't have 20 pounds of clothes on. I have always wondered about the other lives of these people who spend their whole day pretending to be someone else in a different world. I was excited to see Leila Sales had written a story about  this in her contemporary YA novel Past Perfect, which I devoured in one afternoon and thoroughly loved. (Also, I love the cover even if it has nothing to do with the actual story.)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

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….

My college made us Elementary Ed majors have what they called a "Concentration" in another subject area. It was more hours than a minor but not enough to qualify as a second major (but almost-kind of annoying). Mine was in History. So I think I came at this novel from a perspective that most readers who just enjoy romantic contemporary YA probably do not. Reading this was a complete nerdfest for me. The characters in this book are my people. (Yes, I do know real life people who participate in Civil War reenactments.) Chelsea states at the beginning that teens who want to work at Essex are 1)history nerds or 2) drama  geeks. Having proudly been a member of both of those groups I really enjoyed all the characters. Especially Chelsea, who doesn't realize it in the beginning, but is a member of both groups herself. I very much like how in portraying some of the characters as those stereotypes, Sales also showed that individually they were all so much more than that. I thought the way the friendship between Chelsea and Fiona was portrayed was wonderful. They are two complicated girls who really care for each other and want to support each other. I also enjoyed the way Chelsea's break up recovery was dealt with. When you are 16, losing your first love is devastating, even if he is kind of a jerk. Usually you can't see that. I was impressed with how realistic, without being overly dramatic that situation was.

The overly dramatic element was there in the war the Colonial reenactors have with the Civil War reenactors and Chelsea's forbidden flirtation with one of the enemy camp. I liked the relationship, but felt that the most dramatic element of it was a little unnecessary. There was enough going on to create tension without adding that and I had a difficult time reconciling it with Chelsea's character. However, I was able to overlook this because of all the things I did like about the story.

Particularly the history stuff. My favorite scene in the book is from p246-251 where Chelsea and her father are having a bonding moment over a discussion of the perceptions we have of history. Loved. Every. Word.
 Also this quote (which occurs later): "My parents took me to Ren Faire one weekend when I was little, because they thought it would be a fun family outing. When we saw the stage of half-naked dancers, we immediately turned around and left. Not because my parents thought it was inappropriate for their child to see barely dressed women. Just because thy thought it was inappropriate for their child to see such offensive historical inaccuracies." This pretty much sums up why my kids are not allowed to watch Pocahontas.

Note on Content: There is mention of alcohol being available at a party Chelsea attends (though she does not partake). There are also some mild make out scenes.


  1. Looks like you enjoyed this one a lot more than I did! But then again, I know next to nothing about American history so that may have affected my reading experience. Although I've seen UK and Aussie bloggers give raving reviews for this book.

  2. I can see how not knowing the background of the historical stuff might affect a person's reading experience. I lived in the UK and they have their share of rabid historical reenactors too so they can totally relate. I don't know about Australia.