If I remember correctly, I wasn't terrifically enthralled with Amanda Boyden's second novel, and so I let Pretty Little Dirty languish on the shelves for, well, years. And while there were a few problems with the novel, I found myself reading it well into places in my life where I should have been sleeping, and that's got to be a sign that it moved me in some inexplicable way.
Lisa Smith (oh what a placid, everyday name) has been best friends with Celeste Rose Diamond (yes, you read that right; the names are terrible, I know) since they were both in grade six and moved to Kansas City from other, larger cities (Chicago and New York respectively) before the start of the school year. Their friendship is epic: they are destined to love one another in ways that only schoolgirls can -- utterly and completely, beyond a familial relationship and creating a bond that best friends know is there, even if they can't explain it -- they love one another above and beyond anyone else.
Celeste, of course, is utterly beautiful, and both she and Lisa are gifted academically -- so they excel at school, when it's in their interests. They are suburban girls looking for adventure, and they find it the summer before they graduate from high school in the form of an teacher and his students from the local art college. Experimenting with sex and drugs, Boyden's narrative matches the feverish way young girls have of barreling into adult life -- it rolls around and around, often repeating similar thoughts over and over again -- much like a conversation between girlfriends. She has a strange tick to her writing -- keeps telling us, the reader, that Celeste's story is far more interesting than her own, but then we never get the full story when it comes right down to it, because the book is told from Lisa's perspective. Celeste remains at arm's length from us, and maybe that's the way Lisa likes it -- she's as much in love with being Celeste's best friend as she is with the idea of friendship itself. The ultimate unreliable narrator, in a way, putting her subject on a pedestal and then never really letting the reader see how the sculpture came into existence.
I also like how, while there's very typical things in this novel that even reminded me a little of Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicides (minus the very important Trip Fontaine character, naturally) -- mother's with psychological problems, broken families, fathers that hold on too tight to their daughters, sex with older men -- Boyden intersperses this with the punk scene in the 80s, something that's kind of close to my heart. Not because I was remotely a punk, but there was a time when I used to sneak downtown to hang out with skin heads at a bar called Michael's on Queen Street across from the Big Bop, and grew up just at a time when the wrong Doc Marten's could get your head kicked in -- so much of this book, while set earlier than my own teenage years, reminded me of my youth. I didn't do nearly the same amount of drugs, and never dropped out of university, but the struggle to find myself, to define myself outside of the tragedy that defined my own family, as Lisa attempts to do by attaching herself to the Diamonds, well, that rang incredibly true.
It's hard to write teenage angst without it coming across as melodramatic, and Boyden does it so very well in this book -- there were problems with the book in places, mainly the sex scenes (they were a bit too much and a little "ride me like a stallion Morag" for my liking) -- but overall, once I started this book, I couldn't put it down. I actually avoided sleep training the RRBB so I could read more, which meant we spent a lovely few hours with him sleeping on me as I powered through the pages. Lastly, I really, really wish people would stop using the second person. I don't know why it bugs me so much, but it does. However, I would have given my left shoe to be at some of the shows Boyden describes throughout the narrative. Black Flag in 1982? Probably way too violent for me but what an experience.
The Summary: Another Off the Shelf book down, and while the alphabetical reading is now weighing me down a little (I'm really not liking my current book, In the Time of the Butterflies), I am getting through the books much quicker than I thought. I might start reading 2 or 3 in a row from any particular shelf just so that I'm not bouncing around so much and can get through a letter before moving on to the next. In fact, maybe that's what I'll start now and pause my current book because it's seriously boring.