All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Pretty Girl – J.C. Burke

on October 30, 2013

Pretty GirlPretty Girl
J.C. Burke
Random House AU
2013, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Sarah’s year 12 jersey says Sarah the Sensible, because that’s what she is. She’s always been known as the sensible one, the one that organises things, the one that gets things done. As a scholarship student at an exclusive boarding school, Sarah always felt a little on the outer in the core group of 4 girls. They are all much wealthier than she is, much more confident and more reckless at times. She even has a term for them and the way that they act: the genetically privileged. Sarah is settled down with her boyfriend Will now that they are all in their first year of university, things are changing. The group is falling apart.

Jess, whose jersey read Jess the Wannabe is dead, haven fallen from the roof of the residential college’s laundry. And Paige, who was Paige the Brave is in a rehabilitation and psychiatric facility after Sarah found her at the bottom of the university pool. That leaves only Sarah the Sensible and Tallulah who is perhaps the wildest and most confident of all. Sarah feels as though her life is becoming something she doesn’t even recognise and so is she. She finds that all she can think about is the handsome boy she met in the laundry. Soon he’s all she wants to be with and she finds herself sacrificing everything, just for the chance.

What really happened to Paige that night and will she ever find the key to unlocking her stubborn memories? What happened to Jess – why was she on the roof and was it just an accident? Is someone Sarah knows behind all of this and can she be the one to figure it out before she ends up the victim of the next unfortunate accident?

Pretty Girl explores a number of themes but there is a strong focus on changing friendships as people negotiate change in their lives. Sarah, Paige, Jess and Tallulah were close friends in high school, despite their differences. They were fiercely loyal to each other and kept each other’s secrets (via a catch cry of “how long is a piece of string?”) but now that they are all into their first year of university the strain is beginning to show. And now, two tragic events have fractured the core group of four: Paige almost drowned in the university pool and no one knows how it happened. She’s a professional diver and strong swimmer and wasn’t depressed or unhappy. Her parents have a secret they are keeping from her until they believe that she is strong enough to deal with it. While Paige was recovering, Jess’s body was found. She either fell or jumped from the laundry roof but like Paige, she showed no signs of depression and although she was reckless, being up there made little sense. When her toxicology results come back, something immediately shows up as odd. Sarah begins to suspect foul play in both incidents and she even has a suspect in mind but now she needs to gather the evidence, unaware of how much danger she is putting herself in by poking around instead of taking her concerns to the authorities.

Although this is a great premise, I feel as though it lets itself down in ways by spelling things out too clearly for the reader. Its immediately obvious what has happened very early on and it’s extremely easy to put everything together way before it is revealed so that when it is revealed it feels as though it’s all very old information. Because of that, it seems to take a long time for everything to come out and be resolved because the reader has known it for so long. I wish it had been a little more subtle, a little more clever, in particular with the use of names the villain chooses. Despite this, Burke manages to keep the story moving along by switching the narrative between Sarah and Paige, Sarah dealing with what has happened and trying to find out why and Paige trying to regain the use of her memory and work out exactly what happened to her. I enjoyed Paige’s narrative the most as she struggled to unlock her damaged mind and gain the strength she needed to deal with the trauma locked within. It was a stronger story and it was skilfully played out. Paige needed to slowly come to terms with what she couldn’t deal with remembering. Sarah’s story was a little bit blinkered and it began to get frustrating towards the end, because she had seen what she needed to see to help her see the truth but she was so fixated on something that she wouldn’t allow herself to.

I feel as though there should’ve been a stronger motivation behind everything that happened as well because during the dramatic conclusion, motivations were revealed and they seemed a bit weak and lacklustre. A strong suspense novel should really contain a motivation that even if the reader can’t identify with or understand, it should still seem powerful, something that would cause someone to act in ways that are not normal or regular. Unfortunately this book never really gave me that feeling, it seemed really quite random and lacking. That area of the story definitely needed more work.

Pretty Girl had some strengths and some weaknesses. The relationships and the depiction of teenage girls entering a time of change is a definite strength, as is the portrayal of Sarah feeling outcast from even her own friends. However the plot is far to simply figured out which lessens what should be a very powerful impact.


Book #280 of 2013


Pretty Girl is book #98 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013


One response to “Pretty Girl – J.C. Burke

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