The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life – by Tara Altebrando – my fave summer YA read

A tasty bowl of froyo with all the toppings

No Hacking Needed ♥

Verdict: Non-stop fun. While technically not a “summer” novel, it sure feels like one!

Perfect for: People who have had relationship drama. People who secretly like watching other peoples’ relationship drama (who doesn’t?). People who love lists and scavenger hunts (who doesn’t????)

Summary: Just before Senior graduation Mary and her friends Patrick, Dez, and Winter decide that they are tired of being semi-nobodies and that they will prove themselves by winning the annual end-of-year Senior scavenger hunt. Which is epic. Meanwhile, as the hunt goes on, MUCHO relationship drama happens because Mary had a crush on rival competitor Carson, who already has a girlfriend but might be breaking up with her maybe, but her best friend Patrick has a crush on her (Mary) and meanwhile Winter is acting weird and omg so much drama! But not annoying drama, don’t worry. Delicious drama, and totally relateable.

LitHacker Gets Personal: So my big disclaimer for giving this book a perfect score is this. Have you ever read a book where you felt like the author was writing it just for you? This is one of those books for me. I really liked Tara Altebrando’s previous book, Dreamland Social Club, but I didn’t lurve it. But I know (cool) people who felt that that book was written just for them. So it’s hard for me to be completely objective about this book, because my love for it has to do with my own personal filters and experiences…like more than usual.

 Unrequited Crushes….sigh

You might want to argue with me, but I promise you, I am the queen of unrequited crushes. So I felt for both Mary and Patrick as they clung to their impossible crushes in the face of all good sense. All four friends have their friendships tested and feeling hurt throughout the scav hunt.  Feelings are messy and sometimes irrational, and the story does a good job showing how that is without tying everything up in a neat bow at the end.

 Drama on a Tiny Desert Island

Our four friends are constantly on the move, rushing in and out of stores and houses and parks and all kinds of places collecting scavenger hunt items. They are working off a looooong scavenger hunt list and receiving more items and riddles and clues from the hunt organizers, so there is constantly something happening.  But as they drive and run around, all these relationship dramas unfold in brief private moments, through meaningful glances, and over texts. At times each of the friends is on the verge of wanting to quit – quit the scavenger hunt or even quit a friendship. But the format of the scavenger hunt prevents them from having their drama blow up – the momentum of the hunt pushes them along, and their ties as friends and their desire to win keeps them working together even while there is tension in the air. I loved this. The scavenger hunt made the drama less drama-ful, and the drama made the race through the scavenger hunt more interesting. WIN-WIN!

 Fun Traditions

I have mentioned previously how much I love weird school traditions. I think this is because I did not grow up with the rites of formal religion, so I tend to get really excited about traditions, especially if they are kind of odd. My favorite thing about the college I went to was that it was hundreds of years old and had both really old traditions as well as more modern ones (that usually involved alcohol).  As a middle-schooler, I loved going to my “hippie” summer camp because of the traditions that I could participate in year after year. I can really relate to Mary being excited to finally be a senior and the fact that the people who organized the hunt were the winners from the previous year. I remember how for years I looked up to the oldest campers and how exciting it was to finally be in the oldest age group at my summer camp. It felt like an amazing rite of passage. To Mary the scavenger hunt means more than just a chance to win, and through the course of the story she figures out exactly what it means to her and her friends.

 The List Itself. SO EPIC. 

 The scavenger hunt totally made me laugh. Repeatedly. I am so jelz to not have ever participated in a scav hunt so epically epic. Here’s just a snippet of the scavenger hunt list from the organizers:

-Sit by the dock of a bay. Or a lake. We are not picky about this one – 40 pts

-We like gazebos. A lot. Show us your own gazebo love – 10 pts per

-A Pictionary card and paper so you can draw for the judges for points – 35 pts

-An unopened box of Kleenex ( in case e get emotional at judging) – 20 pts

-A pillow (in case we get sleepy at judging) – 20 pts

-A fan (in case we get overheated at judging) – 40 pts

-Ticket stub from any Twilight saga movie – 75 pts

-Go fly a kite (and take a picture) – 80 pts

-An inflatable SpongeBob SquarePants innertube – 100 pts

-You have been an eyewitness to some really bad teaching these past four years. We want a police sketch of the culprit – 125 pts

Oh, and one of the items is “skinny dipping”. Which also makes me think of summer camp and rites of passages.


At one point in the book a minor character calls out Mary for being blind to her own “first world problems”, which totally takes Mary aback. I am all for YA books that are frothy and fun and where the biggest problem is a boy problem or about fitting in. I’m also all for YA books that manage to introduce a serious topic without making the whole book seem like a total downer. I have a low tolerance for books that are basically about “first world problems” but take themselves oh so very seriously. But The Best Night… manages to be a light and fun book that takes its protagonist’s anxieties and frustrations seriously while still pointing out that in the scheme of things, she’s got it pretty good in life.

6 thoughts on “The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life – by Tara Altebrando – my fave summer YA read

  1. Pingback: Review: The Loop by Shandy Lawson ~ YA “Groundhog Day” | LitHacker

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