I knew from the cover that this book would be creepy, but I was not emotionally prepared for this experience. Pretty Girl-13 is one of those books that I'm going to remember for a while, not something that will quickly dissipate from my limited memory banks for story lines. Liz Coley's debut will no doubt shock and offend readers, one of those reads that will be deemed inappropriate for any but the most mature teens, due to the many triggers, most especially rape. If you can handle it, though, Pretty Girl-13 is a riveting tale of recovery from intense psychological and physical trauma.
If you put me in front of a horror movie, I collapse into a shrieking ball of fear. Even though I know what's going to happen, I can't handle it one bit. Horror books, though, really don't scare me. Pretty Girl-13 managed it, however. The horror of Coley's novel is not one of outright violence or things jumping out at you; it's one of the mind. This book messes with your head, makes you imagine situations you've never considered. Angie suddenly appears after three years missing. She has no memory of that period, none at all. That is the most terrifying thing for me: all that time she can't remember, the idea that anything at all could have happened to her and she wouldn't know.
Throughout Pretty Girl-13, I was on the edge of my seat, filled with tension as Angie's story unravels. At no point did my interest wane or did I find the book boring. The revelations come fast and thick, keeping the reader at rapt attention. This is one of those books that I got so into, I disappeared at times, sucked completely into the book, flipping pages without conscious effort.
A couple of the secondary characters in Pretty Girl-13 really shine, and I want to give them a shout out, because the supporting cast generally doesn't get enough love. Kate, Angie's friend, is marvelous. She's totally at one with herself, accepting of her role as a social pariah and determined to make the best of it. Then there are the twins, Ali and Abraim, who date Kate and Angie. Oh my goodness, but they are so cute. Abraim is such a non-standard YA hero in pretty much every way, and I am so thrilled about the way their little romance is handled, though it is probably less than five percent of the story.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Angie herself is a bit trickier. For reasons that will become obvious when you read the book, or if you read the blurb, which I think is a bit spoilery, Angie's character is a bit inconsistent. The narrative style of Pretty Girl-13 does not help with connection to Angie's character. Coley uses third person, which is naturally distancing, and I felt it especially so here. On the other hand, the italicized sections were a well done device. Though I pity Angie and want the best for her, I never got a solid handle on her character, which is understandable, but kept me from engaging that last little bit.
I also feel like some aspects were oversimplified or made more dramatic for plot purposes. Though I can't speak about these directly because I don't want to spoil the story for you, I can say that Angie's recovery takes place to quickly. Her psychologist suggests that full recovery will take years and she's pretty close by the end of a few months. That seems highly unlikely to me, even given some of the extraneous circumstances.
The Final Verdict:
Pretty Girl-13 is a knuckle-biting psychological thriller. I recommend it for mature readers who want a novel that pushes the boundaries of what YA novels can discuss. Readers who prefer lighter fare will want to look elsewhere. This one's intense. Like camping. I'll be waiting eagerly to see what Coley has for us next!