Pretty Girl by J. C. Burke
Random House, 2013. ISBN 9781741663136.
Recommended for mature readers 14 and up. Sisterhood stories have long been popular with girl readers, whether the formulaic Babysitters Club books for younger girls or more complex offerings such as Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants or Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood series for young adults.
Pretty Girl slots well into this chick lit genre and while you may well have thought the two latter series mentioned above had some darker moments, this new novel by J. C. Burke takes a group of best friends into far murkier places.
Four friends, Paige, Sarah, Jess and Tallulah, have been 'besties' all the way through school and have now arrived at university where they all live together on campus. In this new setting, they find themselves divided as issues of wealth, partying, drugs, studying or lack of it and more separate each according to their personalities and circumstances. One thing links them together, albeit unknowingly. A charming and good looking young man befriends each in turn secretly with dire, and indeed, fatal results. Jess is dead, Paige is recovering from a near-fatal accident in a mental institution, Tallulah is out of control and Sarah is beset by doubts and suspicions, as she struggles to keep up with wealthier friends, her memories of Paige's accident, Jess's death and her own longstanding relationship with Will. Enter Jonny - gorgeous, exciting, sexy and psychopathic. As Sarah falls under Jonny's spell, Paige's memory starts to return, piece by piece. Will Sarah be saved from the terrifying control of Jonny's twisted mind in time?
As the readers, we are already putting together the clues about Jonny well before the girls do and we are mesmerised by the seemingly inevitable nightmare into which Sarah is being drawn.
Burke has drawn her characters with great clarity and we can recognise each one's flaws and strengths. A terrific plot which unravels with a steady pace heightens the tension and sense of impending disaster perfectly.
Recommended for mature readers 14 and up - some pretty heavy duty language, drug and sex references throughout.