Mellom, R. (2012). Ditched: A Love Story. New York: Hyperion.
Appetizer: The morning after prom, sixteen-year-old Justina Griffith wakes in a ditch on the side of the road. She has no idea what happened to her last night.
With no money or phone, Justina walks to 7-Eleven, where she begs the gas station attendant for a Snickers and slowly reveals what happened to her the night before and how and why she ended up at prom with Ian Clark, dressed head-to-toe in blue.
In the past, Justina had been a bit of a, ahem, a bit of a kiss whore. All of her kissing has caused her to develop a bit of a bad reputation (but unlike the Joan Jett song about not caring about a bad reputation, Justina cares deeply). Eight months and twelve days ago, she'd decided to only unlock her lips for a boy that was really-truly-most-likely-boyfriend-material in the hope of improving her reputation with her classmates.
Enter Ian Clark. They became friends the night Justina took her vow of lip-lockery, but Prom had promised to be Hallmark moment for them to become a couple. So, when Justina wakes up in a ditch without Ian anywhere in sight, she can't help but wonder what happened to him and think that her potential prince is a frog.
Want to know what's awkward? On page eight, Justina asserts her celebrity crush is Anderson Cooper. That made this book a little awkward to read the week that Cooper publicly came out as gay. Awkward reading of Ditched. But good for you, Anderson! And good for young kids who could be helped by knowing they're not alone.
What first seemed like a YA version of the movie The Hangover, Ditched is a little less mysterious as Justina quickly remembers everything that happened to her, but still slooooowly reveals her story to two strangers in 7-Eleven. (Arguably, the a small mystery still remains: Can she figure out Ian's true nature and know for sure if he's trustworthy boyfriend material.) I liked the way that each bruise, stain and bit of damage is revealed chapter-by-chapter. I thought the pictures pointing out the specific piece of damage to be revealed was a nice touch. I still had been so attached to the idea that this book was a mystery, that the reality was disappointing. (This is not the book's fault...it's totally mine.) But I did have other issues with Ditched.
Knowing this book is a romantic comedy, it's understandable for Justina to wake up on the side of the road and not be super panicked. Dealing with such serious emotions isn't easy to make funny (although, I imagine some authors could make it happen). But as a person with a grasp of reality, I felt like there was much more cause for freaking-out. Like, if I woke up in a ditch after a night of partying of which I could remember nothing, my first instinct might be to see if there was any evidence that someone had raped me or hurt me in some other way. Awful, but true. Just saying. (Admittedly, the story does quell this concern on p. 19.)
I would have been willing to let Ditched slide if that were the only offense, but then Justina is essentially "rape kissed," as the kids say. The offender is a drunk boy who is trying to make another girl jealous. Before the kiss, Justina says, "No, Dan. It's not right. I won't--" (p. 91) and then ends the kiss by turning her "head away. 'Stop it. Stay the hell away from me!'" (p. 92). She then asks what's wrong with her. As though she did something wrong.
My largest issue was with the way most of the female characters behaved. I thought the author did a good job of trying to make Justina a complex character (she's an outsider who wants to blend in and erase her bad reputation, a girl with a plan of romantic perfection who has also been pressured, etc.), but the author fell into that trap of making her protagonist hate/insult any and all other female characters who could be perceived as "threats." Two girls from another high school who attend the Huntington High School prom are "skanks" (p. 116), her best friend tries to steal guys' attention just to mess with their girlfriends. There are a lot of insults based upon whose wearing what and how expensive it is. The author tries to dismiss some of this behavior as low blood sugar on Justina's part. I don't accept this. Admittedly, as Justina starts to get to know various characters, she sees beyond their "skank" and "slutty" exteriors, but I felt it was too little too late to dig out of that deep ditch (hahaha, see what I did there...played with the title and used cliches! I guess that balances out).
I'll stop myself from starting to rant.
Although I do think the way gender is presented in Ditched needs to be troubled and examined (there's also a lot of assumptions that most guys are "scumbags," so the bah humbug-ness goes both ways), it is an interesting premise and there were a handful of amusing moments. I'd say it's laugh-out-loud factor included one or two chuckles.
Also, parents of precocious tween readers be warned: There is quite a bit of alcohol and marijuana smoking going on around Justina in various scenes. It's still arguably responsible (no drunkards or high people drive) but, while representing the reality of prom night, the drug use also isn't at the periphery as much as it would be with other romantic comedies you might recommend to younger readers.
"I don't know how I ended up on the side of Hollister Road, lying in this ditch.
This moment, last night, the details--all fuzzy. A reluctant glance down and I see I'm covered in scratches and bruises. The bruise on my shin appears to be in the shape of a french fry. French fries cause bruises? And I have at least five stains on my royal blue iridescent dress--two black, one greenish-bluish, and the remaining are various shades of yellow. What are these? Mustard? Curry?
Wait. I don't even want to know.
What I do want to know is why I just fell out of a moving Toyota Prius and was left here in this ditch with a french fry shin bruise and unrecognizable stains. Especially the yellow ones." (pp. 3-4)
"'It will be amazing,' he said.
"I can't wait to walk into that room with you," he said.
"It will be the best night of our lives," he said, as if he were reading straight from a Hallmark card.
And like a doof, I told him I would go. I even told him if a Journey song came on, I would dance with him, and I imagined my arms draped around his neck, and his breath on my cheek, and my hip brushing against his. I didn't explain I had been imagining a lof of things about him lately." (pp. 4-5)
"Because even though jerk is the only work I can imagine to describe him now, it's not a word that ever entered my mind as being synonymous with Ian Clark. Ever.
I have always known of him--Huntington High isn't huge and it's the type of place where everyone's business is just known. It's almost as if we're all distant relatives--people you've heard of and you know their basic story--or the Lifetime movie version of their story--but you don't really know them, and sometimes don't want to.
Ian became more than a person I knew basic facts about back in sophomore year, spring quarter, P.E.: softball. I remember my first words to him. "Have you seen that silver bat around?" (p. 19)
"...so you declare to your best friend you are never ever going to kiss another boy again until you know deep in you bones, in you marrow, in you cell structure--one hundred percent--that he is boyfriend material."
"Okay," Gilda says. "I mean...what?"
I shrug. "No kissing allowed until the guy proved he had the material. Until then, lips locked." I press my lips together, reminding myself what they feel like. "It's been eight months and twelve days since I kissed a boy. I was going to finally unlock my lips for Ian. At prom." (p. 21)
"'I'm never kissing another boy again.'
"O-kay. I'm Ian."
"I know. I remember you," I said. "I hate boys. You included. You should probably know that up front."
He nodded. "And I hate girls."
We shook hands, and that was it. We were perfect together.
As friends." (p. 35)
Tasty Rating: !!