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College dreams and teen love find common ground in 'Promposal'

Poppy

"Promposal," a term born within the last dozen or so years, is exactly what one would imagine it to be: an invitation to the prom that's wedding-proposal-level romantic and often very public.

From rooms full of balloons and lockers filled with ping pong balls to song and dance routines that would make anyone's heart melt, promposals have become a regular, spectacular high school event. In RaeChell Garrett's delightful book of the same name, Black teen entrepreneur Autumn Reeves launches a start-up called Promposal Queen, where she is paid to help conceive and execute these elaborate proposals for her fellow classmates.

The business itself initially comes about as an act of desperation. Autumn is waitlisted for her dream school: Mercer School of Business, Great Lakes University. It's an unbelievable notification, since overachieving Autumn had all the right boxes checked and a scholarship that should have made her a shoe in. Unfortunately, Mercer was the only college to which Autumn applied.

Autumn's saving grace is the ability to submit any "additional materials" that might sway the reviewers toward acceptance. So she quickly joins the Young Black Entrepreneurs in an effort to be better than average, and sideways pitches Promposal Queen with the help of fellow senior Mekhi Winston, Autumn's former-crush-turned-enemy. An unexpected kiss between them freshman year cost Autumn her best friend. She has no intention of revisiting all that trauma.

But Mekhi got into Mercer, and he has a knack for business plans, so he's exactly the vice president Autumn needs for her business. She fully intends to pick his brain and not let him into her heart. Happily for us readers, things don't go as planned.

The promposals Amber and Mekhi concoct are so fantastically entertaining that I found myself wishing for more, but the duo doesn't have a lot of time. Autumn needs to show success and profitability before a spot opens up on Mercer's waitlist. Prom is fast approaching, and Amber's mind and heart are at war. Over and over again, Mekhi's presence makes her seemingly impossible mountain almost easy to climb. But considering their tumultuous past, how can the two of them possibly have a future together?

The more time that passes, and the further away a Mercer (and Mekhi) acceptance feels, Autumn begins to focus on the fact that going to such great lengths to bring people together is bringing her joy. I believe this is truly the lynchpin of Garrett's novel: the oft-overlooked importance of joy in a driven young person's efforts to achieve their goals.

I was quickly swept away in Garrett's playful narrative, and her true-to-character dialogue often had me laughing out loud all the way to the book's satisfying ending. Of course the reader knows what needs to happen in the end — a book titled Promposal is essentially its own spoiler. The point of the story is not the final promposal itself but the marvelous journey we are allowed to take with Garrett's well-developed and diverting teen characters. I also appreciated how involved and supportive Amber's parents were — a refreshing change from the often dysfunctional relationships we see.

Promposal is a wonderful breath of fresh air, to be enjoyed on a warm spring day. I truly adored it from beginning to end. Now, I wonder how many teens will be incorporating this book into their own promposals this year!

Alethea Kontis is a storm chaser and award-winning author of more than 20 books for children and teens.

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Alethea Kontis
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