The Pretty One
by Cheryl Klam
Delacorte/Random House (April 2008)
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The rodent is staring at my sister Lucy.
In the rodent’s defense, it’s hard not to stare at lucy. Actually, it’s a phenomenon similar to rubbernecking; only in this case people don’t stare at my sister because she looks like a car wreck. Men, women, children, animals, and zygotes (I’m guessing) can’t take their eyes off lucy because she is absolutely, undeniably perfect. Like airbrushed “men’s interest” magazine kind of perfect.
“Herbert?” I say, since his real name is Herbert Rodale and I only refer to him as the rodent behind his back.
The rodent doesn’t answer. He’s either ignoring me or so deep in fantasyland he doesn’t hear me.
“Herbert!” I shout.
This not only gets Lucy’s attention, but the attention of the techie geeks who, like me and the rodent, have gathered to help Lucy turn the gym into a “magic apple orchard” for the fall festival.
—A La Carte by Tanita Davis, p. 4-5.
The Pretty One is a gripping emotional ride that has budding romance, tension, sibling rivalry, social tensions, and gives a strong feeling of what it’s like to be an outsider, as well as what it’s like to be liked for your looks. The Pretty One is one of those books that you’ll find yourself turning the pages fast to find out what happens next–and not wanting to stop ’til you get to the end.
Sixteen-year-old Megan isn’t beautiful like her sister, Lucy. While her sister gets dates, constant attention from males and females alike, and popularity at their drama school, Megan sits at home watching movies with her best friend Simon, or going out to dinner with her mother. Lucy gets any boy she wants; she knows how to play them, and her beauty makes boys fall for her. Megan wishes she could have some of the ease and popularity that her sister does–but she gets along okay. Her one friend (Simon), her cutting humor, and her artistic skills help her.
But then everything changes. She’s hit by a car and has to undergo multiple surgeries, including face surgery. A year or so later, after she’s recovered, she’s beautiful, in the societal sense, and everyone treats her differently, including Lucy and her parents. She learns what it’s like to have people like her for her looks, and she attracts Drew’s attention–a boy she’s secretly liked for years. Megan gains instant attention and some popularity. People just treat her better. But everything isn’t roses for Megan. It doesn’t feel very good to be liked for what she looks like, not who she is (though at first she gets a bit of a thrill). Then her sister, Lucy, is determined to go after Drew–and Lucy always gets every boy she goes after. Megan feels like a stranger; her physical beauty creates a lot of tension. And Megan starts forgetting who she really is.
Klam writes romantic tension well, building up the question of will she or won’t she get the guy she secretly adores–or will she fall in love for her best friend, who’s fallen for her? Klam increases the tension through Megan’s insecurity and awkwardness, her long crush on Drew, Lucy’s sudden interest in Drew and her skill with boys, and Megan’s best friend Simon falling in love with her–after her surgery. The plot and the writing kept me engaged in the story, racing to the end.
It’s easy to like and to root for Megan–intensely. She’s the underdog and the outcast in this book–ignored, mistreated by popular kids at school because she’s not pretty. But Megan is also thoughtful, kind (even though sometimes she seems a little too kind, to the point of denying herself), funny, and artistic. She’s sensitive about her weight, which many readers will identify with, and is frequently self-conscious and socially awkward. She also consistently puts her sister’s needs and wants before her own, which, while at times makes her seem kind and thoughtful, at other times can feel annoying (like stop letting people walk over you, already!). Megan sometimes has angry thoughts at her sister, which is refreshing and helps balance out her actions. I found myself wanting Megan to succeed, and caring about whether she did or not.
Megan’s cutting humor makes her fresh and more likable. She’s aware of the social tensions around her, has intelligence and depth, though often seems oblivious to her sister’s true motivations and intentions. At times this seems unbelievable, but it also allows the reader to “know” something that Megan doesn’t. I loved Megan’s observations and cutting humor; they drew me into the book. However, she lost that (intentionally, I think, on Klam’s part) after she became beautiful–and I don’t feel like she ever really got that back, which was disappointing. It felt like we lost the character’s voice–a voice I’d really enjoyed. I would have liked to see Megan retain more of her causticness, humor, and depth; it kept her from being too much of a victim.
The point that Megan finally stood up to her sister’s spitefulness prompts the first major crisis and change in the book, helping make it more poignant.
Lucy, Megan’s sister, is such a huge contrast–she’s beautiful, popular, has guys lusting after her. She’s also incredibly self-centered, selfish, manipulative, superficial, and mean. She’s easy to dislike. This contrast makes Megan seem all the more likable. Still, at times Megan comes across like a saint or a victim; I would have preferred her to be less self-effacing with her sister. Lucy also sometimes seems like a bit of a caricature and a stereotype–beautiful but mean, and little else. Lucy’s mean-spirited streak is so well built up that the events leading up to the accident feel believable and real.
Megan, Simon, and Drew feel the most rounded and well drawn. Megan’s parents, however, are flat–characters who seem placed there only to react and respond to Megan, and their responses are either too extreme (the father) or too bland (the mother) to feel real. Megan’s father seems incredibly obtuse and emotionally insensitive, even hurtful, of Megan about her looks and weight, while her mother seems unbelievably supportive in a too-perfect dialogue way, and little else. The parents were absent so much it didn’t feel real. I didn’t believe in the parents, whereas Megan, Simon, and Drew felt real, like they could have existed before the book began.
A very small thing that drew me out of the story was the number of times characters said something “quietly.” It can be hard to portray compassion, sensitivity, upset in tone of voice, but I would have liked to see some alternatives. I also wasn’t sure I believed how Megan couldn’t see, for so long, that Simon was attracted to her. But that added tension, especially for the reader. Megan’s strongest responses were over her relationship with Lucy, which I often didn’t believe, and over Drew, which I did believe.
Simon, Megan’s friend, is staunchly loyal of and supportive to Megan before she becomes beautiful, and this is a relief. It helps buoy up the first fifth of the book, where so much is so hard for her, in a very different way than later on in the book.
I completely believed in Megan’s incredible talent to create detailed and beautiful dioramas, though I didn’t believe in her drawing skill (i would have if the backstory had been established before the fact). Her obsession with dioramas gave her a more rounded feeling, and was interesting to read about.
Drew’s play (that he wrote, directs, and casts Megan in) becomes a big thread in the story. Clem includes the play in the back of the book, which is a neat touch. Every chapter heading uses a word from theatre language, which also is a neat idea, though I wasn’t sure the headings always fit the chapter completely. Still, I enjoying reading the words and their definitions.
The Pretty One is a fun, entertaining, intense read. Every time I put this book down, I wanted to pick it back up and start reading again. Check out this book; you’ll find yourself caring for Megan and the outcome, and enjoying the tension while she gets where she’s going. Highly recommended!
-Added July 03, 2008
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