Once close friends, life for Hanna, Aria, Spencer and Emily has changed dramatically since the disappearance of their friend Alison when the girls were in middle school. Now harboring secrets of their own, the girls have reached high school — and grown apart. As the group is reunited when Aria returns with her family from overseas, the question over what happened to Ali seems to grow stronger.
Especially when each girl begins receiving mysterious messages exposing their dirty little secrets — tidbits only one person in the world ever knew: Alison. But if their secret-keeper hasn’t been seen or heard from in years, who could possibly know about Hanna’s sudden weight loss, Aria’s secret relationship, Spencer’s affection for the wrong boy — or Emily’s own complicated feelings for a new neighbor? Who’s behind the emails, text messages and notes they begin receiving, threatening to ruin the careful facades they’ve built?
Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars, the first in a popular young adult series, is full of all the treachery, cattiness and boyfriend-stealing you’d expect of a gaggle of high school girls in an affluent Pennsylvanian suburb, but with an added twist: a mysterious disappearance and, quite possibly, a murder. I was sucked into the story of these “It Girls” from the first page. It’s obvious from the get-go that the ladies were involved in something quite unsavory, and that they alone knew about it was reason enough to bind them together. But since Ali’s disappearance, even that bond has been frayed and broken.
Pretty Little Liars is the epitome of a fast read; I finished it in two days of inconsistent reading. Each time I went to pick it up, I found myself fumbling along for the next page to figure out what sort of trouble the girls had found themselves in this time. Alternating between the past and the present, the novel’s quick pace definitely helped the novel’s feeling of urgency.
My quibble with the book is probably the same as my problem with any story featuring too many characters — it took me a while to keep them all straight and I didn’t really emotionally connect with most of them. In addition to the four main friends and the mysterious Ali, we had a crew of miscellaneous friends, boyfriends, siblings, parents and teachers whose names seemed to disorient me each time they appeared, forcing me to wrack my brain in trying to place them. Still, that’s not a huge deal. And maybe, you know, a personal reading problem.
So we all know I’m 24 and no prude, but I will say that — for a young adult novel — I was shocked at some of the behavior and themes of the book. Like Gossip Girl and other YA series, there’s plenty of lying, cheating, sex and other mature content at the heart of the story. It was pivotal to the plot, yes, but just a caution if you or your teen would rather stay away.
If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining and juicy read, the Pretty Little Liars series could be a good companion for a rainy afternoon. We won’t be chattin’ philosophy, science or complex issues by the close of the final (cliffhanger of a) page, but that’s not what this is all about. This was cotton candy: fluffy and fun. And with six additional books in Shepard’s series, there’s plenty more where this snack of a story came from.
3.5 out of 5!