I'm breaking with our usual trend of posting supernatural/sci-fi- books on weekends, largely because I reviewed Lydia Kang's Control earlier in the week.
So instead, today I'll be reviewing Pretenders, the first book in a series by Lisi Harrison. - J
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 1st 2013 by Poppy
Format read: E-ARC via NetGalley
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Still, I accepted my award. I acted special. But I couldn't help wondering what it was like to be that way for real. So I broke into Ms. Silver's safe in the faculty lounge and stole all five of our journals. I'm not exposing them out of jealousy or anger. I'm doing this because I am tired of the lies. The bar is too high, and cheating is the only way to reach it. Instagrams are filtered, Facebook profiles are embellished, photos are shopped, Manti T'eo's girlfriend was a fake...is anything real anymore?
I found the answer in our journals. These are 100 percent real and 100 percent unedited. The proof is in the pages:
We're all pretenders.
Fortunately for me, it was the former.
Things that worked:
While I'm normally wary of books with multiple narrations, Harrison does a fantastic job of juggling the voices of five (!) very different characters - all of whom represent one typical high school persona. (E.g. geek; loner; drama queen, etc.)
Even though the book does routinely jumps between the thoughts of Sheridan, Duffy, Jagger, Lilly and Vanessa, Harrison gives the reader enough information about the character each time to keep the plot moving forward, while also letting us a little know more about each of them - drama, secrets and all.
I loved all five characters equally, but found myself relating especially well to Lilly, because I also know what it's like to feel off-center when starting high school for the first time, and the struggle to be "cool". I sympathized with her crush on another character - even if she approached it from kind of a creepy way - and can't wait to see her grow.
* The writing
I've read somewhere before that Harrison's writing is almost magnetic in its ability to engage readers, and I could definitely see that here.
By having each of the characters reflect in diary entries, we became privy to their innermost thoughts, and became invested in them, while also worrying about the bigger picture - e.g. who's going to leak the diaries?
I'll be honest: nothing really dramatic happens throughout the course of Pretenders. There's no major life-defining moment, no specific event that the characters are working toward... and that's what I loved about it.
Harrison manages to take all the small things of high school life - e.g. studying for a test; getting noticed by a crush - and make them seem like they're the most dramatic things that a person can experience - which pretty much perfectly captures what it's like to be in high school while moving the plot along perfectly.
I was so caught up in her plotting and pacing, I was really disappointed when I got to the end of the book - more on this later.
* The headier issues
For a book that's very dramatic, I think Harrison does a great job of also incorporating the premise of reality vs. pretending throughout the book via thoughtful questions - e.g. the dangers of peer pressure and trying to fit in; being true to yourself; learning how to cope with new challenges, etc.
I especially liked the fact that she really put the five teens outside of their comfort zone - e.g. having Sheridan no longer be the best in drama, or having Duffy face up to the fact that he needs to essentially sell out his values by pandering to a trend forecaster, to play basketball. This does open up the room for discussion on what's important in life, and how to maintain your values despite the pressure to fit in.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
But for me personally, the ending just really intrigued me - I need to find out what happens to some of the characters! - and I immediately went online to find out when the next book comes out.