(#97) Book Review: Past Perfect by Leila Sales

Chelsea has been working as a historical reenactor with her parents for years.  This summer, she’d be happy to work at the mall with her best friend and finally get over her ex-boyfriend Ezra.  But when her best friend insists on working at Essex Historical Colonial Village with Chelsea, she feels stuck.  When she shows up for work and finds out that Ezra is also working there, she feels horrified.  Between struggling with her feelings for Ezra and for a new boy (who might also be her enemy?), Chelsea’s summer is anything but carefree.

This is a written version of a romantic comedy if ever there was one.  Sales’s sophomore novel doesn’t quite hold up to her first one, but it’s still a light, fluffy, mostly satisfying read for those looking for a little escapism.  Sales is a good writer, and her humor is what carries this novel.

Because of the novel’s unique setting, Sales is able to get away with some cliches that wouldn’t work for most contemporary YA novels.  These cliches and tropes seem almost fresh because of the setting, and the funny, almost over-the-top events that happen to Chelsea and her co-workers help to lessen the trite feeling of the meet-cute and otherwise predictable plot points.  The problem is that much of the novel’s conflict is based on a petty dispute between two different re-enactment companies, and it feels too petty at times to sustain any real sense of tension.

There’s also the problem of Chelsea, who is, frankly kind of annoying.  She’s immature (and she’s supposed to be) and she mopes for a very long time over a boy the readers don’t know much about and therefore have very little stake in.  More than once, it felt as though Chelsea made decisions to further the plot instead of furthering her own character.  While Sales was able to create realistic, flawed characters in Mostly Good Girls, her protagonist in this story feels too much like an everygirl and sort of fades into the background.  As a result, I had a hard time connecting to her.

That’s not to say that the novel isn’t without merit.  It’s still a fun look into the world of historical re-enactment.  It’s clear that Sales has a respect for the business of history, and the scenes where the characters were at work were some of the strongest and most entertaining.  It’s just that the overarching conflict never felt like much of a conflict, and without that added tension, the story never quite came together.  There are charming bits, but the story feels like it’s missing something.

Past Perfect by Leila Sales.  Simon Pulse: 2011.  Electronic galley accepted for review via publisher.

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