A sweet and clever novel about the woes of (boy) history repeating itself, from the author of Mostly Good Girls.
All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend, hone her talents as an ice cream connoisseur, and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra’s working there too. Which makes moving on and forgetting Ezra a lot more complicated…even when Chelsea starts falling for someone new.
Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off-limits, all Chelsea knows is that she’s got a lot to figure out about love. Because those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it….
About the Author
Leila Sales grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and graduated from the University of Chicago. Now she lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in the mostly glamorous world of children’s book publishing. Leila spends her time thinking about sleeping, kittens, dance parties, and stories that she wants to write. Learn more at leilasales.com and follow her on Twitter at @LeilaSalesBooks.
Read an Excerpt
Past Perfect THE SUMMER
There are only three types of kids who get summer jobs at Colonial Essex Village instead of just working at the mall, like the normal people do.
Type one: history nerds. People who memorized all the battles of the Revolutionary War by age ten; who can, and will, tell you how many casualties were sustained at Bunker Hill; who hotly debate the virtues of bayonets over pistols. They are mostly pale-skinned, reedy, acne-scarred boys in glasses (unless they can’t find a pair of historically accurate glasses and are forced to get contacts). I don’t know if they were born so unappealing, and turned to history for companionship because they realized they were too grotesque to attract real-life friends, or if their love of history came first, and maybe they could have turned out hot, but instead they invested all their energy in watching twelve-hour documentaries about battleships. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg type of question.
The second type are the drama kids. The drama kids are not so interested in authentic battle techniques, but they are super interested in dressing up like minutemen. And they are interested in staging chilling scenes in which they get fake-shot and fall to the ground, bellowing, “Hark! I’m wounded! Oh, what cruelty is this?” even when the history nerds grouch because that is not how it happened at all, and, in fact, no soldiers were wounded during the Battle of Blah Blah Blah.
The third reason for a teenager to work at Essex would be if her parents work there. Which is why I do it. Because my dad is the Essex Village silversmith, and my mom is the silversmith’s wife, and I am the silversmith’s daughter.
The silversmith is the guy who makes silverware and jewelry, and also sometimes he does dental work like fillings. Paul Revere was a silversmith, too, as my dad likes to remind me, when he’s trying to make me value his profession. Silversmiths play an important role in society, or at least they did in the 1700s.
Thanks to my dad’s career, I’ve worked at Essex since I was six years old. Well, I wasn’t technically employed for the first few years, since I did it for free. It was more like Take Your Child to Work Day every day, except that I had to wear a historically accurate costume of tiny boots, petticoats, a pinafore, and a bonnet.
When I turned twelve, I started getting paid—not a whole lot, but nothing to turn up my nose at either, especially since the only other jobs available to twelve-year-olds in my town are being a mother’s helper or trying to sell baked goods on street corners. And the baked goods market is really saturated. So historical reenactment was a solid gig for a while, and I had more independent income than anyone else in my middle school. I used it to buy a trampoline.
But now that it’s nearly the end of junior year, I’m sixteen years old, which means I’m legally employable. I can finally get a real job at a real place. A place where my coworkers won’t spend their lunch breaks debating who would have won the Revolutionary War if the French never got involved; where I can wear shorts instead of floor-length skirts; where there might even be air conditioning. Also and most importantly: a place where my parents don’t work.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and all. But my father and I have the sort of loving relationship in which, whenever he says more than one sentence in a row to me, I want to stab myself in the heart with a recently formed silver knife.
“So obviously what we want to do this summer,” I said to my best friend, Fiona, “is work at the mall.”
“Yeah . . .” Fiona said in a tone that meant No. We were having this conversation over ice cream in her kitchen, a few weeks before school let out for the year. Fiona and I had recently decided to devote the summer to becoming ice cream connoisseurs. Which essentially meant that we were going to eat as much ice cream as possible, and then discuss it intelligently and rate it on qualities such as “flavor” and “texture.”
“We could work at the mall,” Fiona said. “Or, instead of that, here’s another idea: We could work at Essex.”
I sighed. “Fi—”
“Think about it,” she said.
“Trust me, I’ve thought about it for the past ten years. Working at Essex is not really that fun,” I tried to explain to her. “It’s like going to family camp, only you have to be in character all the time, and strangers watch you and ask questions.”
“I actually love being in character,” Fiona reminded me. “And I love having strangers watch me.”
Fiona is a drama kid, and she’s good. She can belt out songs, and she emanates this confidence that just commands attention when she’s onstage. You can’t help but watch her. To top it off, she’s tall and willowy with waist-length chestnut-brown hair and catlike green eyes. I will be surprised if Fiona doesn’t grow up to be a famous actress.
Fiona and I have never spent a summer together because she’s gone to the Catskills for theater camp every year since we were little. But this past fall Ms. Warren lost her job, which meant some corners had to be cut. And theater camp was corner number one.
“How about we work at The Limited?” I suggested. “If you want, we could pretend to be characters who work at The Limited. And strangers will watch us fold shirts and stuff.”
Over her bowl of mint chocolate chip, Fiona argued, “But if we work at Essex, I can have some romantic historical name, like Prudence or Chastity.”
“Your name is already Fiona,” I said.
“Chastity Adams,” she continued dreamily.
“Your name is already Fiona Warren.” Fiona’s ancestors legitimately moved from England to the Colonies back in the days when there were Colonies. She doesn’t have to pretend that’s her story—it is her story. Plus, she is not particularly prudent or chaste.
“It’ll be like living in Pride and Prejudice!” she said.
“Really? When’s Pride and Prejudice?”
“Isn’t that when Essex is set?”
“No. Really, Fi? I’ve worked there for the entire time you’ve known me—you want to work there—and you don’t even know when it takes place?”
“Just tell me?” Fiona widened her eyes and pouted a little.
“I’ll give you a hint: Colonial Essex Village.”
She hazarded a guess. “Seventeen hundreds?”
“1774. Two years before the Declaration of Independence. Immediately before the First Continental Congress.”
“You sound like a history nerd! Anyway, what does it matter? The past is the past. It’s all kind of the same.”
Fiona is not dumb, by the way. She’s just an actress. Stories, emotions, people: that stuff interests her. Dates and facts leave her cold.
“Look, Chelsea,” she said. “I promise this year won’t be like every other summer. It will be two months of you and me running around together in beautiful old-fashioned dresses. You won’t have to spend the whole time locked in the silversmith’s studio with your parents. We can ask for a station together! Like at the stables or something! Nat says all the cool kids work at the stables.”
It was obvious that Fiona had never been gainfully employed before, since she seemed to envision it as a constant Gone with the Wind experience, minus the death and destruction.
“We’re not allowed to work at the stables,” I explained. “We’re girls. Girls didn’t muck out horse stalls in 1774. Also, is this really just about Nat Dillon? Is that why you’re so into this Essex job?”
Nat Dillon always plays Romeo to Fiona’s Juliet, Hamlet to Fiona’s Ophelia, the Beast to Fiona’s Beauty. Occasionally they hook up in real life. The rest of the time they only stage-kiss. My theory is that Fiona wants to take things to the next level—like, the level where Nat is her boyfriend—but she’s in denial about that. She shook her head and said, “I want to work at Essex because it will be good for my acting career, and because we can do it together. And, fine, the presence of cute boys doesn’t hurt.”
“There are no cute boys at Essex,” I said. “With the possible exception of Nat Dillon, and that’s only if you’re into long hair.” Nat wears his hair in a ponytail. He’s always lovingly combing his fingers through it. Don’t ask. “Everyone else there is ineligible. Trust me. I’ve grown up with most of them.”
“Your problem is that you hate true love,” Fiona said, clearing our bowls. “And I give this mint chocolate chip a six. The chocolate chips are strong, but the mint part should be mintier. Dyeing ice cream green does not actually make it taste any more like mint.”
“Five point five,” I said. “The mint part is the important part, and any ice cream manufacturer who doesn’t understand that is a sociopath.” As ice cream connoisseurs, we are extremely discerning. “And it’s not that I hate true love. It’s just that I don’t believe it exists. Especially not at Essex. I can’t see hating something that isn’t even real. That’s like hating centaurs or natural blondes.”
“How many times do we have to go over this?” Fiona heaved a sigh. “Just because Ezra Gorman turned out not to be the love of your life doesn’t mean there is no love of your life. It just means it wasn’t him.”
Fiona has been coaching me through my breakup with Ezra for weeks. She was really good at it for about three days. Then she got bored and now mostly just says things like, “Are you still not over that?”
“If you work with me at Essex this summer, I promise you that I will find you true love.” Fiona took my hands in hers and stared earnestly into my eyes.
“You will learn to love again,” Fiona continued, sounding like a movie trailer voice-over.
And at that, I totally lost it. “Okay, fine, Crazy Girl,” I said through giggles. “Let’s do it.”
But I want it to go on record that I didn’t say yes because of the true love thing. I said yes because there was no point to working at The Limited if Fiona wouldn’t be there with me.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide for:
by Leila Sales
About the Book
All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend, hone her talents as an ice cream connoisseur, and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra's working there too. Which makes moving on and forgetting Ezra a lot more complicated even when Chelsea starts falling for someone new.
Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off limits, all Chelsea knows is that she's got a lot to figure out about love. Because those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. The book opens with Chelsea describing the three types of teenagers who would work at Colonial Essex Reenactment Village: history nerds, drama kids, and kids whose parents work there. Would you work there? Do you fit into any of the three groups?
2. If you lived in Colonial America, what would you miss the most from this century? What perks would there be to living in 1774?
3. Which early American time period would you rather reenact—the Revolutionary War or the Civil War?
4. If you were supposed to spend the summer working at the same job as your ex, like Chelsea, what would you do?
5. Fiona sets an arbitrary date for when Chelsea can speak to Ezra again. Do you think not talking to an ex can actually help you get over them?
6. In the book they say, “ponytails are a deal-breaker.” Do you have any deal-breakers?
7. What is the best dating advice you’ve ever received?
8. Past Perfect has a lot to do with moving on. Do you think Chelsea would have moved on from Ezra without having Dan as a new crush?
9. What do you think of the ending, when Chelsea doesn’t end up with her ex, Ezra?
10. In your opinion, do you ever really get over someone?
11. In the novel, Chelsea’s parents are a bit eccentric. What’s the most embarrassing thing your parents have ever put you through?
12. After conducting your own research, like Fiona and Chelsea’s, what is the best ice cream flavor?
Enhance Your Book Club
You don’t have to work in a reenactment village like Chelsea to know your history! We recommend the following books to discover more about Colonial America and the Civil War Era: 1776 by David McCullough, George by Frank Keating, Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson, Testament: A Soldier’s Story of the Civil War by Benson Bobrick, and Civil War Command and Strategy by Archer Jones.
Bring a few pints of ice cream to your next book club meeting, and become ice cream connoisseurs like Chelsea and Fiona!
Reading Group Guide written by Dawn Ryan
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved it!!!!! It was a really cute teen read. It's only 200 pages too, so it was pretty short. A must read for all romantics!!!
PAST PERFECT tells the story of sixteen-year-old Chelsea Glaser who is a part of Essex Historical Colonial Village. This novel is all about life in the past of two historical sights and villages. The characters are interpreters and have to represent the lives of their historical counterparts. Playing a role and knowing the script sounds like an easy task…until it is confronted with the real life of the 21st century. Beside their roles, both historical villages have a feud in common. PAST PERFECT is about a war between these two villages which is very entertaining. The jokes and pranks both villages come up with are so funny. Then Chelsea is on the warpath with love. There are two boys to occupy her and the readers thoughts with. It was nice to see her torn between her ex boyfriend and falling for someone who is strictly forbidden. One love is the more rational, the other is build on false memories and extenuations. I expected PAST PERFECT to circle around the relationship between Chelsea and Ezra in some way and I am pretty satisfied in which way Leila Sales solved it. Chelsea is our protagonist and I liked the features of her personality. What annoyed me a bit about her was her way of clinging to her ex-boyfriend all the time, analysing his every move. Some sequences displaying the historical living are too much for my taste, but still they are needed to build up an authentic setting and plot. Read PAST PERFECT, it's a cute new contemporary romance! THE VERDICT I immediately liked Leila Sales writing. It is youthful and has many jokes, comparisons and funny enumerations included. PAST PERFECT feels like its very own part of the YA novel history.
Past Perfect is a contemporary novel in the broadest sense, considering it takes place in the present day, but much of it is in 1774 and then a century later during the Civil War. Chelsea's job as a historical reenactor is hilarious, especially because of the War her coworkers have with the Civil War reenactors across the street. War strategy, planting of historically inaccurate objects (phones!), and a little romance make Leila Sales sophomore novel a winner. Sales has a talent with humor and Chelsea - historical name: Elizabeth Connelly - is funny. Her interactions with her parents, particularly with her talker of a father, had me giggling. The drama within Essex is unbelievable (in a good way) because these teens get so into their jobs. The War and the historical reenactment bring about some new words too; my favorite being 'farbs,' which is an insult towards the reenactors. I just want to run around giving dirty looks and calling people farbs now. The story focuses mostly on Chelsea and, surprisingly, not too much on her love life. It's more about her; growing up and moving on. Sure, Chelsea has an ex-boyfriend and things are complicated and painful between them, and now there's Dan and all the complications of liking a Civil Warrior, but really, it's more about Chelsea learning from the past and living in the present. Sales' writing of Chelsea and her situation is witty and intelligent. Everything with the War and all the historical information is absorbing. On top of that is a cast of supporting characters that are endlessly entertaining with their one liners and dedication to the War. Past Perfect is another wondrously amusing and charming book from Leila Sales, and even though I was sold on it before, now I know there won't be a book by Sales that I won't love. She gives us delightful characters, witty dialogue, comical situations, and romance that is both sweet and alluring. It would be incredibly difficult to not love this book and I can't recommend it enough. Leila Sales is contemporary force to be reckoned with.
I read Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales last year and I LOVED it. It is one of the funniest and the most realistic YA contemps I've ever read. She GETS it. So, of course I had to read Past Perfect. I mean, of course. I mean, even besides the fact that Leila freaking Sales wrote it. It takes place in a Colonial re-enactment town. I've been to Williamsburg and it rocked my socks off. Granted, I was 9. But I want to go back so badly. Anyway, Past Perfect was made of awesome. Not only did it take place in a Colonial re-enactment town, it was right across the freaking street from a Civil War re-enactment town. And the two towns were at war. And there are BOYS. I thought Chelsea was an excellent protagonist. She was snarky and bitter, as most teenagers are, and her situation, although a little out there, was certainly relatable in the overall themes. And Dan was all sorts of swoon worthy. I loved their banter and even though I didn't necessarily understand the big deal with their different situations, it made for an interesting conflict. Past Perfect is a hilarious and witty and very, very original young adult contemporary. I loved every single page and every single character, even the obnoxious ones. If you're looking for a laugh or for a fun romance or for an original story in a badass setting, definitely check out Past Perfect. And anything else Leila Sales ever writes.
Leila Sales writes with a fresh & biting voice that is both hilarious & insightful. Her style is almost reminiscent of internet speech, with plenty of italics & zippy one liners. It is fun & familiar, an easy & entertaining style that pulls readers into the flow of the novel. Adding to the novelty is the quirky & unexpected element of living history. The plot centers around an ongoing rivalry between 2 reenactment tourist traps -- Essex, the Revolutionary War town where Chelsea works, and their rival in a secret war, Civil War Reenactmentland. This unique element brings a fascinating flavor to the tale, immersing readers in the likely unknown world of war reenactment, and the relevance of history to modern life. Sales cleverly traces her heroine's growth through historical parallels, reminding both Chelsea and readers that those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it -- a lesson crucial to Chelsea's transformation. Chelsea is snarky & a little abrasive, but she's also just a teenage girl going through the same trials everyone experiences during adolescence. Her heartbreak over her recent (and apparently ugly) break-up is heartfelt, and will resonate with readers of all ages. Though her best friend Fiona can be a little harsh, it is clear she has Chelsea's best interests at heart, even if that means a little tough love. Fiona has a point about Chelsea's need to move on, and her inability to remember the bad times with the good -- but the novel also acknowledges that it's easier said than done. No arbitrary expiration date can be placed on heartache, and only time can heal some wounds. Chelsea's growth over the course of the novel is masterfully written, showing her development from a sarcastic shell hiding a wounded girl, to an empowered teen who knows what a healthy relationship looks like and what kind of love she deserves. Fortunately, Chelsea finds a much more worthy love interest in Dan. Unfortunately, he's the enemy -- setting off a Romeo and Juliet-esque tale of star-crossed love, though far sweeter and much less melodramatic. Dan is smart, passionate and kind, and he recognizes how special she is in a way that her ex-boyfriend never could. It is exciting to watch their illicit relationship develop through conversations about their hopes and dreams, family problems and secrets -- rather than mindless love-at-first-sight where they don't really know each other at all. Their clandestine encounters are steamy (though strictly PG), and there's just something irresistible about a forbidden love. Past Perfect is simultaneaously realistic and delightfully outrageous. Though there is no magic or monsters, the idea of a bunch of teens waging all-out war -- with Generals and Lieutenants, kidnappings and espionage -- is an imaginative flight of fancy. However, I was disappointed in Chelsea's revenge tactics toward the end of the novel. So often in these scenarios, the hurt heroine will take ridiculously disproportionate revenge, making her seem cruel & bitter rather than sympathetic-& Chelsea's betrayal late in the novel unfortunately falls into this category. This is a sweet contemporary read, full of laughs & love, fights & betrayals, history & hope. Chelsea's attitude & spunk will immediately endear her to readers, & Dan's charm & charisma will win their hearts. This is a thoughtful look at history-both national & personal-& the lessons learne