Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein
The Skinny: After their prom dates stand them up, Amy and her two best friends, Lila and Cassie, begin to have the night of their lives – and end up in jail. Being arrested is clearly no fun, but when it’s for possession of marijuana, intent to sell, and selling… this can make a good night go from bad to worse in the snap of a fingers. Amy is forbidden to associate with her friends anymore and is forced to get a job to pay her astronomical attorney fees, see a therapist, do community service… all while fearing that she may spend the next year in jail. Feeling abandoned and lost, hopeless, she must learn to pull her crumbling life back together and face the consequences of her actions.
Just a little note: this may be a lengthy, albeit drawn out review… I have a lot to say!
BFF?: Nopers. I do not want to be BFFs with Amy, although she is seriously in need of a GOOD BFF, not the two she thinks she already has. Before I get into why I wouldn’t want to be BFFs with Amy, lemme tell you about her: she is the stereotypical teenager who doesn’t know who the heck she is, where she is, what she is, etc. She’s floundering in her own life, clasping onto whoever (or whatever) pays an ounce of attention to her. But don’t let those “negative” vibes fool you: she’s deeply caring, loyal, smart. She’s scared and alone and just wants to be loved. Now, why I don’t want to be her BFF? I just don’t think I could be friends with someone who is so obstinate. Despite her good qualities, of which I think there are plenty, Amy’s kind of… well… bitchy. In a troubled way. Not a bitch. Oh, foot in mouth… I think if I had to befriend her, I’d want to befriend her as an adult mentor, not like the kinds she has in the book, but a cool, hip, older sister type mentor.
Readability: While the subject of this book is a little more serious, its tone most definitely is not. Amy provides a witty voice, sarcastic. But it’s not without heart. The language is easy, familiar, and captures what I imagine most teenagers to sound like. I never once thought “This doesn’t sound like the voice of a teen; it sounds like the voice of a grown-up!” I found myself hooked, lost in Amy’s world of chaos and laughing at the antics that came along with it.
Crush Level: 5
Although there really isn’t much interaction with him, Joe is definitely the love interest of the book. But… we don’t get so much of the romantic aspect of him as much as the ex-friend who is still secretly supportive. Amy’s longing for her old friend is very much there, but the cold distance between them is even more apparent, which doesn’t give you much time to develop much of a crush on Joe. Although towards the end I did end up cheering for him, wanting to hug him and thank him for being such an awesome friend to Amy.
It’s really rare that I read books that have many religious elements in them, but when I do, if there’s a religious character or the main character brings up his/her religion, it’s typically some denomination of Christianity. I often feel like being Protestant myself we don’t have a lot of what I refer to as religious pomp and circumstance – meaning our “ceremonies” or “traditions” are all very simple, not a lot of fanfare. To quote Elliott Reed’s HORRIBLY misguided mindset, I often think “God I wish I were ethnic.” (if you haven’t seen this Scrubs episode or scene, trust me… it’s pretty funny) Amy is Jewish, so we see a lot of Jewish culture come into play, including one of my favorite scenes in which her Christian boss (and oddly enough Amy’s mom) decides that Amy needs to find Jesus. It gave the book another deeper element for me to get a brief glimpse into another religion.
Growing Up Scenes
I think all YA lit should include scenes about the characters growing up, about their body going through changes, because as an adult, they’re really kind of hilarious. Amy’s period woes and her mother’s stress about Amy’s lack thereof CRACKED me up. And, not to get too spoilery on you, her mother MADE her go to the gyno about it. My mom did the same thing to me when I was 18, forced me to go to the gyno AND went with me for her own appointment because “it’s just easier for us to go together rather than make two separate appointments.”
We all know how much I love BGFFs so I was happy happy happy that there was one in this book! AND even happier that he ended up being Amy’s love interest! Perhaps I should call my own BGFF and tell him about this…
Anti-Bonus Points (sort of)
Smoking the Doobies
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Okay, this isn’t really an “anti-bonus” point that I didn’t like… but I couldn’t very well put drug use as a BONUS point! Much of Pretty Amy focuses on Amy’s consequences of her drug use and arrest and the steps she has to take to avoid jail time. While it was interesting to read about this and see how she dealt with it, it was also VERY hard for me to read because, unfortunately, I’ve been part of the family who had a teenager member get in trouble for the very things Amy went through. My younger brother was very much like Amy, didn’t quite fit in and so found the friends who took him in, adopted their ways, drank, smoked, did drugs… and eventually was caught and arrested. I don’t particularly like sharing this darker spot in our family’s past, but feel that since it has to do with my review I’d at least mention it because there may be others out there who could use a book like this to help them deal with members of their own family. While I don’t excuse my brother’s actions or the hurt he caused our family, it was enlightening to get a chance to better understand the hurt and loneliness HE might have been going through during his high school years.
Commencement Speech: There are fantastic first novels, and then there are FANTASTIC first novels. Pretty Amy falls into the latter of these options. I wasn’t expecting this to be a deep book, didn’t realize that the subject was as serious; I honestly thought Amy got arrested for something silly and had to spend the summer volunteering and falling in love. So am I disappointed this WASN’T the plot of the book? HELL TO THE NO! I’m so happy this wasn’t a fluffy book that left me smiling and giggly at the end. I’m ecstatic that it left me beaten and sad, that it gave me a better understanding of my own family and an appreciation for all of those who helped during our darker times. Amy wasn’t a fresh, new character – she was a real teenager with real problems, one who we all know and have probably scorned when all they really needed was some understanding and a friend. Lisa Burstein has created a book, a story, that’s so fantastic that I feel it will not only touch the lives of teens and young adults who read it, but give them an understanding of the consequences to their actions as well as an understanding that they’re not the only ones who feel the way they do. For us adults who read it, I hope that it gives us insight into what teens and young adults go through when faced with these situations and decisions, the way it did for me.
Yearbook Quote: I couldn’t deny it anymore. The sun was up and I was still arrested. Nothing had changed – which meant everything had changed.
Superlatives – Most Likely to NOT be voted prom queen
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