If you could do one day over, what would you do differently? Would you spend time with your loved ones and let them know how much they mean to you? Would you get revenge on those who’ve hurt you? Would you use this do-over for selfish purposes, or would you try to change things for the better?
That moral dilemma is at the center of Laurie Boyle Crompton’s new book, Pretty in Punxsutawney, a love letter to the iconic John Hughes films of the ’80s and ’90s. Andie, named after Molly Ringwald‘s character in Pretty in Pink, is starting her senior year in a new town, and the school year is brimming with possibilities. After a disastrous first day, Andie wakes up the next morning to discover that she’s trapped in a Groundhog Day loop—or, in more recent terms, a Happy Death Day loop. She’s now doomed to repeat her first day of school over and over, but instead of having an existential crisis or trying to find her would-be murderer, Andie at first thinks she needs true love to break the loop. Along the way she realizes that she may be part of something bigger than herself, and eventually decides it’s up to her to unite the rigid cliques that populate her school and show everyone they’re not as different as they appear to be.
Fans of John Hughes’s coming-of-age flicks are definitely going to love this book. There are quite a few references to films such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, and, of course, Pretty in Pink, with just enough explanation behind each allusion that readers who aren’t too familiar with these movies can still understand their significance to the overall story. Andie’s love for movies comes from her die-hard ’80s film fanatic mother, meaning that our heroine is quite genre savvy when it comes to navigating her new school. This also, however, means that while she might be knowledgeable when it comes to films, she very genre blind when it comes to her real-life relationships.
Andie is determined to make Colton, the cute boy who works at the local theater, her new boyfriend. Right away it’s obvious he’s definitely not someone worth her time: he flirts with all the girls at school and is practically in a relationship with a girl named Kaia, throwing a wrench into Andie’s plans. Using the loop to her advantage, she is constantly trying to split up Colton and Kaia so they don’t become a couple, going so far as to become a cheerleader at one point. While this allows Andie to expand her horizons in terms of how she views the cheerleaders—who are a fiercely loyal bunch focused on promoting girl power, something I’m always happy to see in contemporary YA—it’s discouraging to see Andie try again and again to win over someone who is not the guy she’s going to end up with. This takes up half of the book, and for someone who claims to be such a movie buff, I find it a little odd that Andie would be this clueless to Colton’s obvious disinterest in being anything more than friends.
Once Andie does figure it out, Crompton has to cram a lot into the last half of the book, making things feel rushed. Andie manages to infiltrate a couple of other cliques in her school, coming to the conclusion that the students at Punxsutawney High aren’t all that different from each other. Andie going undercover was definitely a highlight for me, and I wish there was more of it in the book. I would have loved to see her try to become a science nerd, or maybe a metal shop guru. She does manage to become a goth for a day and a yearbook photographer for a few loops, but because the book is only so long, there’s simply not enough time to do much else.
The relationships Andie develops with the people she meets also could have benefited from more development. Her friendships with the yearbook girls feels the most genuine, and I was invested with the forbidden romance one girl has with a boy from the theater clique. Andie also makes it a point to emphasize how prejudiced each clique is towards others, telling her new friends to their faces how judgmental they’re being, which I liked a lot. Both she and I were surprised especially to learn that the yearbook girls were much more prone to gossip and mean comments than the cheerleaders; I know that people are much more complex in real life, but I appreciated the little subversion of character Crompton added here. Even if it was undone the next day, I liked seeing how preconceptions were proved wrong and how seemingly superficial characters had motivation and flaws. Andie even manages to make a somewhat friendly connection with one of her enemies, and I really wish there had been more to their friendship than one scene.
I kept thinking to myself that this story would work a lot better as a movie. There are spots where there’s just narration of the things Andie does to impress Colton, or skills she picks up from the hours of YouTube videos she watches, and all of that would have been perfect in a movie. Montages don’t have the same effect in books, so Andie going from being unable to walk in high heels to suddenly being a pro at it feels a lot less genuine than it would be if we saw her progress over the course of a few shots. There are also a few instances of physical comedy that would definitely translate better on a screen.
Pretty in Punxsutawney lays on the clichés for sure, but it’s transparent in why it does so. While I personally was annoyed with Andie’s initial quest to win Colton’s heart, that plot line is very reminiscent of classic teen movies, and is a turning point for Andie’s personal journey. Crompton succeeds in not only emulating these stories that are so ingrained in our culture, she also adds a few new twists to classic tropes of the teen movie genre, keeping things interesting while still staying in familiar territory.
If you’re confused with my opinion on this book, then you’re not alone. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. On one hand, I wish Crompton had done things differently in terms of pacing and story; on the other, this was a fun little trip down nostalgia lane that gave me a couple nice surprises. (Seriously, I need a sequel about yearbook girl and theater guy!) When all is said and done, Pretty in Punxsutawney is a fun read, but it’s probably one I won’t revisit anytime soon.
Pretty in Punsutawney is available on January 15, 2019.