For our YA Contemporary Thursday segment today, we're reviewing Liz Coley's Pretty Girl-13.
Our Contemporary Thursday series is where we review YA contemporary books which have come out recently. While the majority of our books will be upcoming releases, we may occasionally also review books that we're only recently discovering!
I went into Pretty Girl-13 not really knowing what the book was about. Even with the Elizabeth Smart comparison in the synopsis, I somehow still assumed that the book was more about a supernatural kidnapping, than anything else.
(I think my impressions were influenced by the cover. The colors plus glowing/halo around the door makes me think she's about to walk into a haunted house or something).
However, I'm actually glad that I went into book unprepared. Because not having any sort of preconceived notions or expectations, made me fully appreciate the impact and gravitas of Coley's work.
I'm skipping my usual "full synopsis", since I don't want to give anything away. I think the element of the unexpected/surprise is very important for all readers.
My review will also be deliberately vague, because I really don't want to take anything away from the reading experience of others.
* The writing. Coley is a masterful, powerful writer that doesn't hesitate from shying away from having readers experience the full-on horror that Angie lives through. To be completely honest, Coley's writing was so powerful, I had a difficult time sleeping after finishing the book. It's the type of book with the type of writing, which sort of bleeds into your soul.
* The "characters". There are characters, and there are "characters" in the book. The "characters" in the book were beautiful, sympathetic and well-written. Coley gives enough detail that I thought of them as their own fully-fleshed characters.
* Angie's new friends. She meets some new friends, who are strongly supportive and understanding of what she's gone through. I loved them for being kind and understanding of her recovery.
* Angie herself. She's a well fleshed-out character. I appreciated her strength, her willingness to work through her recovery and phases of self-discovery, and her optimism and growth for the future.
* Coley's plotting. She unfolds the story from multiple "perspectives", using different tools and different forms of imagery. In the hands of a lesser writer, I think the tools/imagery choices may have come off as gimmick-y. In Coley's hands, it's a powerful look into Angie's psyche.
What didn't work:
* Angie's friends from the pre-kidnapping days. I felt like the whole Greg sub-plotline was kind of extraneous. However, I do think it did do much to emphasize the levels that Angie had to go to to survive.
* The plot twist involving the coincidental appearance of another character in Angie's neighborhood. I thought this plot line was a little too difficult to believe. To borrow/amend a quote from Casablanca, "Of all the neighborhoods in all the houses in the world, [that character] had to appear in mine?"
Things to consider:
I've seen some reviews say that there's nothing new or unexpected about Angie's story.
And yes - If you read the news at all, then you know that everything Angie went through during captivity, is very similar to what Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard experienced in real life.
But I think that the common thread of events, is what makes Coley's book work. The fact that she shows that kidnapping/captivity victims go through very similar events, regardless of their age/location/time period, really drives the horror of Angie's experiences home.
* The relative plotline. I also thought this plotline was kind of overkill.
While it does explain some things - e.g. why Angie didn't run/scream/make a fuss when she came across her captor for the first time - it just seemed too much.
Final verdict: I would recommend Pretty Girl-13 for everyone. I think the discussion that can be provoked by the book are very important, and shouldn't be limited to age.
However, I would also suggest that parents with younger teens consider reading the book with their teens, and talk to them about it.