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Friday, May 10, 2013

Review: Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley

Reminiscent of the Elizabeth Smart case, Pretty Girl-13 is a disturbing and powerful psychological mystery about a girl who must piece together the story of her kidnapping and captivity.

Angie Chapman was thirteen years old when she ventured into the woods alone on a Girl Scouts camping trip. Now she's returned home…only to find that it's three years later and she's sixteen-or at least that's what everyone tells her.

What happened to the past three years of her life?

Angie doesn't know.

But there are people who do — people who could tell Angie every detail of her forgotten time, if only they weren't locked inside her mind. With a tremendous amount of courage, Angie embarks on a journey to discover the fragments of her personality, otherwise known as her "alters." As she unearths more and more about her past, she discovers a terrifying secret and must decide: When you remember things you wish you could forget, do you destroy the parts of yourself that are responsible?

Liz Coley's alarming and fascinating psychological mystery is a disturbing - and ultimately empowering page-turner about accepting our whole selves, and the healing power of courage, hope, and love.

Liz Coley's Pretty Girl-13 reads like a horror novel, but it's actually realistic fiction - emotional, powerful, horrifying realistic fiction. This debut novel tells the harrowing tale of Angie Chapman, a sixteen year old girl who has been missing for three years after going missing during a Girl Scout camping trip. 

The novel opens with Angie returning home, with no memory of having been missing for years. She still thinks she's thirteen and is shocked, and has a difficult time believing, that she's been missing at all. Thus begins Angie journey to unlocking the mystery of her disappearance and the past three years while learning to live her life again when the world has moved on without her.

Early in the book, the reader and Angie discover that, in an effort to protect her, her mind has shattered into multiple personalities. Little by little, Angie meets and interacts with these distinct personalities which hide the secrets of the last three years to protect the original Angie, who they refer to as Pretty Girl-13. It is this part of Pretty Girl-13 that most makes the novel feel like it could be part of the horror genre: the entirely plausible situation that occurs in the novel is perhaps more terrifying than the any monster you could possibly imagine. Not only must Angie work to merge or eliminate her various personalities, to do so, she must face the realities the personalities are hiding her from, realities that are sure to be painful and difficult to bear. 

Admittedly, this is a very emotionally heavy novel, but Coley writes in such a way that the reader is able to connect and empathize with Angie, while keeping some distance so not to be completely overwhelmed by the horrors she has experienced. Angie's multiple personalities not only distance her from the events of the past three years, they also distance the reader, revealing information little by little so not to release the painful events too quickly. Additionally, Angie must move on with her life, however difficult it may be, offering another way for Coley to balance the darkness of the past with the hopefulness of Angie's future. I can't imagine how terrifying being intimate, having romantic feeling for someone, or trusting after what Angie's been through, especially at such a young age, but I felt Coley did a wonderful job of showing how this could be possible... and is even necessary. 

One of my favorite aspects of Pretty Girl-13 was the focus on the supportive individuals in Angie's life following her disappearance. Angie reconnects with an old friend and makes a few new friends who don't question the difficulties she's facing or judge her. If they were real people, I would have given them huge hugs! Angie also works closely with a psychologist who is very invested in her and I loved the relationship that developed between the two characters... and the psychologist and some of Angie's personalities. Not only were these developments interesting from a psychological standpoint, they were touching as well.

I was continually shocked as more and more information about Angie's missing three years was uncovered, but I never felt overwhelmed by the darkness of the subject matter. Coley did a beautiful job of finding the light in such a dark situation, adding depth and a sense of hope to Pretty Girl-13. This is a must read for fans of realistic YA and psychological dramas.

Katherine Tegen Books, March 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:9780062127372, 352 pgs.


  1. Mystery, horror, memory loss and multiple personalities, wow why didn't I pay more attention to Pretty Girl-13 before! I'll definitely be picking it up now. Love your review, Sara.

    1. I hope you enjoy it, Sana. It's such an emotional read... be prepared! :)

  2. I really enjoyed Pretty Girl-13, but it was definitely one of the darkest YA novels I've read. However, I felt like Liz Coley dealt with such a difficult subject in a really great way. Glad you liked it too!

    Julia @ That Hapa Chick

    1. I totally agree with you, Julia. I thought Coley had a fresh take on kidnapping and memory loss.


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