I’ve never seen this television show. My daughter got these books from a friend but hasn’t gotten around to reading them so I swiped them from her bookshelf.
The first book in the series is Pretty Little Liars. It introduces the characters and plot of the following books. The story takes place in the Northwest Philadelphia suburbs and follows four high school juniors as they navigate the new school year, teenage drama, and the mysterious notes and text messages that are being sent to them from someone calling themselves only “A”. The foursome are different stereotypical teenage girls. Aria is the artistic, dreamy one who lived in Iceland for three years prior to the events of this book. She is therefore worldly and mature enough to have beer preferences that impress her hot English teacher. Emily is the lesbian jock. Spencer is the over-achieving hyper-competitive one that is desperate for her parents’ love. Hanna is the fat girl turned hot popular girl. The group were best friends in middle school but had been brought together by a fifth girl- the mysteriously disappeared Ali. The book flashes back to when all the girls were best friends, but since Ali’s disappearance they have all gone separate ways and don’t speak to each other anymore. When they all start getting text messages from “A” about secrets that only Ali knew, the girls scramble to keep their secrets hidden. The book ends with another mystery- who killed their friend?
The second book, Flawless, basically continues the same story. The original mystery- who is A?- has not been answered. The girls initially thought that A was their missing friend, Ali, until she turned up dead in her own back yard. A second mystery was introduced at the end of the first book- who killed Ali? This is followed by a third mystery- what is “the Jenna Thing” that the girls continually refer to? The four main characters are not quite friends at this point, but Ali’s funeral has brought them together and they have discovered that they are all getting texts from “A”. None of the girls are willing to tell the others what secrets A is using against them. Emily is still a lesbian jock, and is both being harassed by her ex-boyfriend and falling for the new girl in town (who just happens to live in Ali’s old house). Hanna is back to binge-ing and purging after failing to get her ex-boyfriend to drop his virginity pledge. Spencer is still hooking up with her sister’s boyfriends. Aria is still hooking up with her teacher, hiding her knowledge of her father’s affair with his student, and comparing every single pedestrian event or object in PA to something else in Europe. Throughout the book, it is revealed that the girls were involved in a prank gone wrong that maimed Jenna, a neighbor of Ali and Spencer. The big event in this book is an event called “Foxy” that is basically an invite-only dance for teenagers to raise money for charity. It culminates with the death of an apparently important character that exists only in this book but that is a big part of “the Jenna thing”.
The third book, Perfect, is where I started to think I had things really wrong. I thought I had figured out the identity of A by the end of Pretty Little Liars. I also thought that A and Ali’s killer were different people. Perfect had me rethinking everything, because it portrays Aria as a complete loon. Aria spent three years living in Iceland when her father was on sabbatical, so her travels through Europe have made her extremely worldly and mature. She looks down on everything and everyone in her suburban town of Rosewood. She is turned on by her teacher’s sweaty hands, and the fact that he smells “good, like chili powder, cigarettes, and old books” and loves that his apartment smells like dust and Kraft macaroni and cheese. Does she have a brain tumor that affects her sense of smell, or is she a psychopath?
In this book, Aria continues to hook up with the teacher while also living with Hanna’s ex-boyfriend. Her mother has kicked her out of the house because Aria’s father left the family for his student. Emily is outed to the whole school and her parents make her join a conversion group. Spencer has been nominated for the world’s most prestigious teenage writing award that ensures fame throughout your lifetime and warrants a front-page glamour spread in the Philadelphia Inquirer. She also finds out that she once had a memory lapse after a childhood febrile illness and convinces herself that she must have murdered her friend in a completely separate memory lapse. Spencer seems not very smart for being valedictorian.
Hanna continues to binge, but not purge. She has been having friendship drama because her BFF, Mona, has dumped her. Mona used to be a middle-school fat girl and she and Hanna got skinny together and have been friends ever since. They did everything together- steal jewelry, steal cars, drink wine at restaurants, judge everyone else’s clothes and bodies loudly while drinking at restaurants, and constantly drop the names of what labels they are wearing. But when Hanna accidentally orders a skywriter to invite people to “Fart with Mona” their relationship is over. Hanna consoles herself by hooking up with a nerd that is only mentioned in this book when convenient because all the other boys have been used up. That guy comes to the rescue when Hanna shows up at a party in a dress that splits down all the seams and she ends up with her cheeks flapping in the wind. Then Hanna abruptly realizes who A is, arranges the other girls to meet her at the school playground at 3 a.m., and is promptly murdered in front of her friends in a hit-and-run.
In the fourth book, Unbelievable, we find the former friends in different places. Literally different places, since Emily was sent to live with her doomsday-prepper aunt and uncle once she failed gay conversion therapy. Hanna is hospitalized and in a coma. The other two are either sitting around the hospital lobby or at school.
Emily gets kicked out of her aunt and uncle’s house in Iowa after a single day. Somehow in one day this milquetoast ended up at a party (not by choice) and dancing with a girl and thrown out within a 24-hour period. Her parents needed only this 24 hour break to realize that they don’t actually hate gay people and that they will welcome Emily back in all her lesbian glory and take her and her girlfriend Maya to dinner. References are made to Ellen Degeneres. Emily is super happy, except that her 24 hours away from home showed her that there is more than one other lesbian in the world and she might actually be into other people and not just Maya.
Aria’s teacher dumps her after he is released by the police. In the last book, Aria’s boyfriend gets a message from A that Aria is doing the dirty with the teacher, so he calls the cops and drives with the cops to watch an arrest and also dump all of Aria’s belongings on the front porch. Turns out in Rosewood, PA, sex with a minor doesn’t require charges to be filed or parents to be notified so Teach is just going to head out of town but not before passing on one of his favorite possessions for Aria to remember him by- his William Shakespeare bobble-head figure. Aria moves in with her dad and his student-girlfriend and takes an art class attended by Jenna, the blind girl referenced in all of the books. Aria, the loon, decides that Jenna is both A and Ali’s murderer. Though she is repeatedly described as blind. Is Aria actually A, and the murderer, and spends large chunks of her time in a fugue state brought on by terrible smells?
Spencer is still going through the process of applying for the world’s most prestigious teenage writing award that ensures fame throughout your lifetime and warrants a front-page glamour spread in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her parents convince her to keep doing it even though she has been outed as a plagiarist.
Hanna is first in a coma with undetermined brain damage, then awake, then pretty much fine except for a lot of griping about stitches. She calls up Bobbi Brown’s offices to get Bobbi Brown to come do her makeup for a party. She never actually gets Bobbi Brown but does feel much better after bullying adults who have to stay professional to keep their job. She is very drawn to a nerd and likes to make out with him but thinks her BFF Mona will disapprove so she tells him to get lost. Basically, other than making out with this guy, she is described as being pretty awful to him.
The book ends with A being revealed in dramatic fashion and then conveniently dying. Someone is arrested for Ali’s murder but he’s not the killer because a) it’s too obvious and b)apparently there are more of these books.
Overall, these books are entertaining and quick reads. I’ve lived on the Main Line and I recognize some of the places that are portrayed under pseudonym but never encountered people that were anywhere near this snobbish and wealth-obsessed. Not a single object in this book is described without a label or designer attached- the clothes, the cars, the jewelry, the furniture, the hair salons, the nail polish colors, the accessory bags, the makeup, the scented sunscreen of male love interests, the gum, the yoga instructors, even the swim team’s bathing suits. Occasionally Aria wears something downmarket because she is an artist, but she makes up for it by dropping in a reference to her worldly experiences with Parisian boutique hotels and eating putrified shark.