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Retro Friday Review: Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my post every week.
Such a Pretty Girl has only been out for three and a half years now, but I kind of get the impression that--similar to Julia Hoban's Willow--it hasn't reached the wider audience it deserves as a result of its somewhat disturbing subject matter. I know I held off picking it up for awhile. Well, make that several days. I would have gone longer, I'm sure, but I read two absolutely stellar reviews of it and wanted to try it so bad. However, I have a very hard time reading stories about child abuse. I haven't the stomach for it and I tend to emerge so much the worse for wear that I can't make a habit of them. However. Something about the tone of these reviews (I wish I could remember whose they were) encouraged me. So I made a silent agreement with myself that if my library had it, I would go ahead and read it. And wouldn't you know it, it did have it. And this ended up being another case of me running out to buy the book before I'd even finished my library copy. It was that good. And this all happened within the space of one 24-hour period, as this slender volume clocks in at a scant 224 pages. But I'm telling you, Laura Wiess knows how to make every word count. It instantly snagged a spot on my Beloved Bookshelf and I think about it and Meredith often. 

Meredith Shale thought she'd have longer to prepare. She thought her father would be locked away for nine years. That's what his sentence read. But after serving three years in prison for child abuse, he's released on good behavior. And he's coming home. Her mother, who never got over her father being gone, is ready to welcome him home with open arms. Meredith's reaction is just a little bit different. At fifteen, she thought she'd be able to reach her eighteenth birthday and leave home, thus avoiding ever having to see him again. But now he's back living in the same apartment complex. And Meredith has no one but her best friend Andy and retired cop Nigel to turn to when her anger and fear threaten to overwhelm her. But Nigel can't always be right there when she needs him. And Andy, who is confined to his wheelchair and not so incidentally had his own brush with Mer's father, really does have his own set of messy issues to deal with as much as he loves and wants to protect Meredith. When the unthinkable first happened, no one believed her. And the horror spread to other kids as a result.  In the years since her father was incarcerated, Meredith has acquired several coping mechanisms for dealing with what happened to her. From her strict vitamin-taking regimen to her obsession with prime numbers, everything in her life has its place. Now that he's out, even on parole, she abhors the idea of seeing him, doesn't believe for a second his claims of reformation, and is determined no one else will ever suffer at his hands the way she did again.

I was shocked at how much I loved Such a Pretty Girl. It's an incredibly fast-paced story, with a very present narrative style so that it feels like you're standing at the sink with Meredith in the morning, sitting on the curb with her under the glaring sun of the afternoon and staring up at Andy's door, walking home with her at night--a ball of dread tearing  a hole in the pit of her stomach. And here and there the story is shot through with brief flashbacks to the time in her life when she was most powerless. But it never overwhelms completely. It never made me want to shut the book and leave. Rather, I could not put it down. I loved this girl from page one and I was going to see her through to the end. Which is perfect, by the way. Wiess strikes a touching and precarious balance between moments when Meredith is supported by a desperately needed group of truly good, if slightly unusual people--a cop, a cripple, a zealot--and moments when she is left utterly alone to stand up to her demons. Because she's the definition of a survivor. Meredith lives through nightmares unimaginable, more than any 15-year-old should ever have to live through. And when the law lets the nightmare right back into her house, she doesn't crumble and succumb. She fights. That's why she won a spot on the Top Ten Kick-A** Heroines of YA list I put together awhile back. I took a risk on this book, but it was just extremely well done. The relationship between Meredith and Andy provides an important current of sweetness and light to counter the darkness of their combined pasts as well as the imminent danger of their entwined presents. And to top it off it has one of my favorite last lines ever. An amazing debut novel for Ms. Wiess. Recommended for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, Julia Hoban's Willow, and Donna Freitas' This Gorgeous Game

For those interested in reading it, Good Golly Miss Holly is currently hosting a giveaway of Such a Pretty Girl right now. You have until May 25th to enter. 

Linkage

Comments

  1. That's interesting, because as I was reading your review I thought, I wonder if she's similar to Laurie Halse Anderson - who by the way can WRITE.
    I know what you mean though - there are some topics I just can't swallow, particularly when children are getting hurt and/or abused. It takes me sometimes months to get up the guts to read a LH Anderson book. :)

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  2. I came across this book a few weeks with the intent to look it up and read it. Reading the excerpts online really made me interested, but the subject matter made me want to wait. I'd just watch Precious and honestly needed a break from child abuse and rape from a father. I'll definitely pick it up read it now!Thanks.

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  3. I wasn't sure if I could be able to handle this book either but a friend (whose taste in books I trust) really recommended it so I gave it a try and I haven't forgotten Meredith since. Such A Pretty Girl is an amazing novel and I loved the ending<3

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  4. I read and reviewed this book last year and absolutely loved it! I agree with the previous post that Meredith definitely sticks with you!

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  5. My daughter has this book on her TBR shelf, given to her by a friend, but I've actually never picked it up to find out what it's about. It sounds like an immensely powerful read.

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  6. I recently read her new book, How It Ends, and thought is was fabulous, even stronger than Such a Pretty Girl. She definitely doesn't stray away from difficult topics.

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  7. Raspberry, she can, can't she? :) Yes, very similar style to that. I hope you get the guts up to read this one sometime. It's so very worth it.

    Sami, yeah, when you've recovered sufficiently, definitely give it a go and let me know what you think!

    pirate, isn't it just perfect? I <3 the ending so much. That last line...well. It seals the deal. It's such an intense and moving book.

    Tameka, exactly. Here persona and strength are both heartbreaking and admirable.

    Christine, it really is. I'd be interested to hear how a girl closer to Meredith's own age read it, you know?

    Sarah, that is great to hear. I have HOW IT ENDS on my TBR so I need to bump it up for sure.

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  8. Maybe I can convince her to do a Mother-Daughter review with me....

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  9. Christine, perfect!

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  10. Yes! Andy is a sweetheart and I loved how the ending was foreshadowed. :D

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  11. Pirate, love the guy. And, yes to the ending!

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  12. I agree - it's a very good book, as it's intriguing, well-written, and stays with you.
    Thanks for the link!

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  13. Little Willow, my pleasure. I think it might have actually been you that led me to it in the first place. So thank YOU! :)

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