1 November 2011

Review 47: Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

"Everyone has something to hide - especially High school juniors Spencer, Aria, Emily and Hanna. Spencer covets her sister's boyfriend. Aria's fantasising about her English teacher. Emily has a crush on the new girl at school. And Hanna is using some ugly tricks to stay beautiful. But they've all kept an even bigger secret since their friend Alison vanished. How do I know? Because I know everything about the bad girls they were and the naughty girl they are now. And guess what? I'm telling."

My public-stated reason for reading this was that it's popular at school so I need to know what the fuss is about. The real reason for reading this is that I love the TV series that is based on it and I wanted to see what the source material was like. Often with books, a whole series is based around one book but this book covers basically what happens in the first episode of the series. It's quite a brave choice by Shepard as the book basically sets up the main characters and the story without huge developments in plot. The end of the book is when the action really kicks off.

The four main characters are, for the most part, massive stereotypes, almost to the point of it being ridiculous. The amount of drama they all have going on is crazy but I suppose there wouldn't be much of a story without it. Aria in particular is a bit overwritten. I found her selfconscious quirkiness irritating in the TV series and it is ramped up x10 in the book; she knits and paints and writes poetry, she carries a toy pig round with her to consult on her love life and the descriptions of her outfits are hilarious. She's that girl who has carefully crafted a quirky, offbeat persona that just comes across as studied to adult eyes; I would be interested to ask my teenage readers how they responded to her.

The girls are all more likeable on screen as Shepard spends most of her time relaying their secrets and drama and less time building up some level of empathy for the. I love the character of Spencer on screen but in print she loses some of her charm and her actions are pretty reprehensible at times if taken on face value. I don't know if this is good writing or good acting on the part of the TV series.

Nonetheless, the book is very readable and fastpaced as Shepard builds up a picture of life in the affluent Rosewood and the issues that the girls are struggling with. Hanna is a recovering bulimic and Emily is coming to terms with her attraction to girls. These are slightly more grounded problems that the inappropriate affairs that Aria and Spencer are dealing with and make Hanna and Emily a little more appealing as characters. It's difficult to review a book when you both knew what was happening as you read it as well as what was going to happen in the rest of the series as I can't comment on whether the events were shocking or surprising to new readers but they certainly were to me when I watched them.

It's not really a book for younger readers; there is drinking, drugs, swearing and sex so not one for more sensitive readers expecting a fluffy teenage mystery but I can definitely see why it appeals to older teenage readers and it's good to see a series aimed at teenage girls with a bit of a darker, mysterious side on top of the romance and drama.

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