Flawless by Sara Shepard

From the front flap:
In the exclusive town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania, where the sweetest smiles hide the darkest secrets, four pretty little liars—Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna—have been very bad girls…

Spencer stole her sister’s boyfriend, Aria is brokenhearted over her English teacher, Emily likes her new friend Maya… as much more than a friend. And Hanna’s obsession with looking flawless is literally making her sick. But the most horrible secret of all is something so scandalous it could destroy their perfect little lives.

And someone named “A” is threatening to do just that. At first they thought A was Alison, their friend who vanished three years ago… but then Alison turned up dead. One thing’s for certain: A’s got the dirt to bury them all alive, and with every crumpled note, wicked IM, and vindictive text message A sends, the girls get a little closer to losing it all.

In this, the second book of the Pretty Little Liars series, bad things continue to happen to the pulchritudinous prevaricators, often of their own making but sometimes not. Spencer risks her family’s wrath (and her academic standing) by sneaking off to see Wren, her sister’s ex-boyfriend. Emily tries very hard to not be gay, and ends up taking as a date to the big charity dance a boy who may have killed Alison. Hanna is desperate to earn her father’s love, but A (and a bitchy soon-to-be step-sister) sees to it that he finds out about her various transgressions. And Aria tries to derail her father’s extramarital affair while growing closer to the guy who dumped Hanna, like, eight days ago.

While I could never claim that this series is a shining achievement in literature, it certainly is entertaining (in the most crackalicious way possible). Each book seems to cover about a week in the lives of these four girls and, seriously, if I had this much crazy crap going on in my life, I think I would end up catatonic. As before, chapters alternate between the four girls as they each deal with their own secrets and various threats from A. This time, they’ve decided that A must be Toby, a neighbor who took the blame when one of Alison’s pranks resulted in dire injury to his sister. By the end of the novel, they’ve convinced themselves that Toby also killed Alison for revenge, though the revelation of the existence of an airtight alibi throws that into question.

I can’t help but come at this series from the perspective of someone who’s been watching the TV show. The differences between the two versions of the story are widening, and it’s interesting to me to see how the producers of the show decided to take the story in new directions. On the show, for example, Aria is still (as of the last episode I saw, anyway) hooking up with her English teacher. Here, she seems to have moved on, and with Hanna’s ex, to boot. Spencer never had sex with Wren on the show, nor was it ever mentioned that she used to be a chronic sleepwalker. In the books, the girls have not resumed their friendship as enthusiastically. Most importantly, though, someone dies in this book who is still very much alive on the show!

This makes me happy, because I accidentally spoiled myself on the identity of A in the books. This robs me of some suspense while reading, unfortunately, but at the same time all these changes suggest that A could very well be someone completely different in the TV version, and that I can’t necessarily expect people who are benevolent in one format to be the same in another. That’s pretty neat.

For me, Pretty Little Liars is the epitome of a guilty pleasure.

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