Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein

If, like me, you view your high school years as something best left never revisited, and if, like me, you wonder if you really existed in high school, then perhaps you should approach reading Lisa Burstein’s Pretty Amy with caution. You might experience some post traumatic-related flashbacks.

Despite the somewhat optimistic cover, featuring a young girl in a puffy prom dress, Pretty Amy is anything but light and puffy. It will make you think, occasionally shudder, and perhaps cry a little.

Amy Fleishman is 17 and joining her best friends, Lila and Cassie, for prom. Lila lined up the dates, and the girls are ready. But the dates prove to be no-shows, so the girls head to prom alone. Well, they are accompanied by a bag of pot that one of the girls pilfers from the boys’ home. And that bag proves to be their undoing, for a mere few hours later, the girls are arrested for possession, among other crimes.

Amy’s parents are irate. Her mother, with whom Amy has a sour, maddening relationship, decides to fire the preemptive strike, forcing Amy to (a) get a job (at the Gas-N-Go, of all places), (b) visit a therapist (a hippie who sits on a bean bag chair and wears tie-dye), (c) perform community service (trash, old people, pets) and (d) hire an attorney, who she must pay using the money she earns from Gas-N-Go.

Before you start thinking that Pretty Amy is some kind of cuddly, comedic YA novel, let me disabuse you of that notion. Pretty Amy is miserable, but in a good way. Amy Fleishman is one messed up kid, but she’s messed up in a way that most of us can relate to or at least commiserate with.

What I hated to think, but couldn’t deny, was that Lila and Cassie could live life without me. What did it mean that I found it so hard to live life without them? What did it mean that I couldn’t even see what was right in front of me, without them there to show me?

… I thought about how in movies when you are missing someone, you are supposed to think about how they see the same stars you see. This is supposed to make you realize that the world may be big, but you are both still a part of it. It is supposed to make you realize that they are not that far away.

I fell asleep, thinking about what a crock that was. 

Amy is lonely, isolated, and largely ignored by the world around her. She is a teenaged girl who wants to connect with someone other than her pet bird, AJ. She wants to be noticed, to be different, to be appreciated. She wants her parents to really know her, but not rule her. She wants to feel valued.

And she doesn’t.

During her summer of legal purgatory, Amy learns a lot about herself. She has several helpers along the way, whom she refers to at one point as a “psychedelic Wizard of Oz“-type group, but her voyage of self-discovery is largely done alone. Which, really, is as it should be. If she relied on others to help her figure herself out, she might not believe them.

While I enjoyed Pretty Amy quite a bit, I do have some questions that bothered me. The first is college. Amy never mentions it. I teach high school students, and I have yet to meet one who is not obsessed, in one fashion or another, with college, especially at the end of their senior year. We learn nothing about Amy’s plans for the future, even at the end of the book. That seems like a pretty large omission, especially for a girl so worried about her place in life. Amy gives great lip service to how she felt a part of the Lila and Cassie group, yet it is clear she never was. She also talks about how she enjoy smoking because she enjoys how smoking makes her feel. She’s different when she smokes. Yet she hangs out with Lila and Cassie, two smokers, so isn’t she just like them?

But the college thing really bothers me.

Still, this is a good book, and I am grateful to Lisa Burstein for the ARC, which I won in a Twitter contest. It made me think about my students, and it made me so grateful that I only work in a high school. I’d hate to be a student in one again.


Published by Entangled Teen and available on Amazon.com.

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