Guys, I had a really scary couple of days. I somehow started reading Pretty Little Liars and before I knew it, I was finishing book four. While I don’t exactly regret what I’ve done I’m also very aware that that’s about six hours of my life I’m not going to get back. I feel weird and uncomfortable and I’m dealing with the fact that there’s no way to purge after a book binge.
I now bring to you, humble reader, reviews eight through eleven: Books one through four of the Pretty Little Liars universe.
Each book starts with a flashback to … whatever year it was supposed to be, when the five girls that are central to the story are celebrating their last day of seventh grade. The girls are already fashion-focused, deeply concerned about their weight and makeup, and worried about hooking up with the right guys. They’re twelve! Maybe I need to get a lawn so I can tell kids to get off it, but come ON. At twelve I was all Return of the Jedi and The A-Team and Manimal (Don’t hate. Manimal was awesome).
I digress (but seriously! Manimal!). Each book starts with the flashback to their final night of seventh grade when Ali, the uncontested leader of the group, vanishes during a sleepover. Then the main story starts. It’s a YA book so the writing is light, breezy, conversational, and tends to repeat itself. Each chapter focuses on a different remaining girl and her seriously messed up life as a Junior in High School. Each chapter brings with it reminders and references to who this person is, who her friends are now, what her place in the school is, and what her place in the group was like when she was twelve.
The four girls who remember nothing of their friend’s disappearance (five girls went to sleep; four girls woke up) start getting anonymous letters reminding them of “terrible” secrets they had in seventh grade. They freak out. The fifth girl’s body is discovered. Everyone’s a suspect! The anonymous threats intensify! Stupid people make stupid mistakes! There’s mass humiliation, parental behavior that would probably fall under abuse and/or neglect, back-stabbing, reckless endangerment, creepy older guys, victim blaming, body shaming, sex shaming, adultery, attempted rape, attempted murder, actual murder, and suicide.
I hated everything about these books. I don’t like this particular writing style (the kind that feels like a TV episode, including “previously on” and “meanwhile, over at location X” and flashbacks written as if they’re present-tense). There is not one sympathetic character anywhere in these pages. The teens are terrible. The parents are terrible. Every adult and child in these books (and probably this whole fictional town) are terrible. The fact that some of these people own pets makes me worry for the fictional animals’ lives since everyone in the entire town of Rosewood seems to be unstable.
Everyone is obsessed with their weight, their looks, the correct people to date, the right schools to get into, the right parties to go to, the right phone to have, car to drive, accessories to carry, and plastic surgeon to see. Name brands are dropped harder and faster than in American Psycho. These might well be the American Psycho for the Millennial Set because there is murder and mayhem a-plenty.
And if you look, you’ll see I’ve rated this a 4-star review. Because damn if I didn’t read one right after the other. Four books, in about six hours, over a span of two days. If I had more uninterrupted reading time I could’ve done it faster, but that probably would have led to me reading more than four books. There are currently seventeen books in this series. Seven. Teen. They grab trope after trope and wrap them together in a designer scarf and scent them with expensive French perfume and serve them to you warm on a tray with chocolate sauce to dip them in. It’s fantastic. Although that metaphor got a little weird.
Sara Shepard, I applaud you. You are my hero.