Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein

Amy is fine living in the shadows of beautiful Lila and uber-cool Cassie, because at least she’s somewhat beautiful and uber-cool by association. But when the girls get stood up for prom and take matters into their own hands—earning them a night in jail outfitted in satin, stilettos, and Spanx — Amy discovers even a prom spent in handcuffs might be better than the humiliating “rehabilitation techniques” now filling up her summer. Even worse, with Lila and Cassie parentally banned, Amy feels like she has nothing — like she is nothing.

Navigating unlikely alliances with her new coworker, two very different boys, and possibly even her parents, Amy struggles to decide if it’s worth being a best friend when it makes you a public enemy. Bringing readers along on an often hilarious and heartwarming journey, Amy finds that maybe getting a life only happens once you think your life is over.*

Ever had one of these moments when you finish a book and think “That was definitely NOT what I expected?” Like, you saw a cover and read the description and it never prepared you for what might be inside?
The synopsis for “Pretty Amy” is a good example of that.

Seriously, read it again and tell me the first thing that comes to your mind? A nice contemporary? Maybe something in the way of David Leviathan or Janette Rallison (not that I’ve read Janette Rallison, but the cover makes me think of “My Fair Godmother”)?

I don’t think you can tell what “Pretty Amy” is about from that synopsis. And I definitely don’t think you can tell it’s been challenged.

And yet, it has been. “Pretty Amy”, a book that tells the story of a girl who was busted for possession (marijuana), and how she deals with the fallout of her arrest, has been denied a review from a major teen magazine, because of one scene of drug use. I’d tell you more, but there are others who have done a much better job already.

So let’s talk about the book instead.

It sometimes happens that I can’t detach myself when reading a book. I look down with my (relatively) “grown-up” eyes and shake my head and think “Oh, you fool, what are you doing”. This was not one of those books. Amy is not the kind of girl who gets into trouble, so when she gets arrested for possession, she doesn’t quite believe this is happening to her. Even as she goes through her arrangement and trial and volunteering, everything is surreal to her, and she views things through a very idealized filter. Nothing her parents, lawyer, or co-worker gets through her head.

I was with her all the way through.

But, oddly enough, I was also with her mother. And father. And Collin. And Joe. And Cassie. And Dick. But especially with her mother.

If you’ve read the book, you might find it off. Amy’s mother is described as the kind of horrible, overbearing parental figure that inhabits our worst nightmares as teenagers. For a while, I kind of hated her.

Then I made myself think, and you know, it wasn’t hard for me to get into her shoes. Maybe it’s because we view everything through Amy’s eyes, so we don’t immediately recognize the behavior of someone who is genuinely afraid for another person’s wellbeing.

Ultimately, I think “Pretty Amy” is a novel about communication and the failure thereof. Not every problem in the book can be solved through sitting down and having a chat, of course, but you can’t help but feel that things would be different if Amy and her mom just talked. Or if Joe wasn’t such a douche in sophomore year. Or if…

Or if.

Thing is, sometimes the things we do don’t make sense. For example, I’ve felt responsible for someone younger than me, and when that someone did something incredibly stupid/selfish/mean, I’ve felt the urge to grab them and shake some sense into their noggin. Because when you’re genuinely afraid, you’re not sensible. You don’t think about properly communicating your fears and having a grown-up, productive conversation. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to see the other person as the incorrigible enemy, and you see yourself as the victim. It makes more sense to enforce your point violently because that’s the only way you could save them, damn it!

See what I mean about this not making sense? And yet we do this anyway.

I think more people should read “Pretty Amy”. I also think that “Pretty Amy” will leave a lot of its readers feeling uncomfortable - not because of the drug use, but how close to home it hits. How they will recognize their behavior in not one, but several characters, and will be forced to examine it from this new point of view.

It’ll be a difficult experience, but I also think it’ll be well worth it.

*Image and synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.

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