Bebe Baker is an ex-everything: ex-stripper, ex-Christian, ex-drug addict, ex-pretty girl. It’s been one year since the car accident that killed her boyfriend left her scarred and shaken. Flanked by an eccentric posse of friends, she is serving out a self-imposed sentence at a halfway house, while trying to finish cosmetology school. Amid the rampant diagnoses, over-medication, compulsive eating, and acrylic nails of Los Angeles, Bebe looks for something to believe in before something–her past, the dangerously magnetic men in her life, her own bad choices–knocks her off course again.
Pretty is a novel that is hard to define. It doesn’t seem to really be able to place itself in any kind of genre, at least not one I read so I presume that that probably makes it literary fiction. It’s not a teenage read, it’s not really Chick Lit… so I think it’s trying to be a literary novel. It’s not a pretty novel, either. Here there are no pies in the sky, no happily ever after, just a girl struggling to get her life together after her boyfriend dies in a drug-fuelled car crash. Bebe is an ex-lot-of-things. But now she’s clean and sober, trying to get through Cosmetology school (hair-dressing/make-up, that kind of thing) and trying to not fall off any of the wagons she’s so precariously been balanced on for a year, since the accident.
I admit, I was immediately intrigued by the novel and the opening chapter where Bebe tells us how Aaron died was both tragic and sad and I was interested to know how it would go from there – I don’t read many books about drug addicts/strippers and I was intrigued as to where Lauren would take Bebe’s story. As it is, we pick up a year later as I’ve said above. I found the novel hard-going. It’s not a pleasing read. It’s not a book where I get to the end and find myself smiling. It’s a difficult novel, hard to swallow, even harder to read about. I have no idea what it’s like to have a drug addiction, what it is to crave alcohol and to know that someone like Bebe, like all the girls in her halfway house, are all struggling every day to stay clean made me sad. Some say I have an idealistic view of the world – I wouldn’t even know where to buy drugs, never mind anything else and all I felt while reading the novel was sadness. For all the people who aren’t lucky enough to have good parents like I have, that despite Pretty being fiction, there are hundreds, thousands even, of people out there like Bebe and books like this do bring it home that the world isn’t perfect.
I did struggle to finish the book. Bebe’s life was just really, incredibly depressing, incredibly sad and mainly I read books to make myself happy, to get a happy ever after and whilst I knew what I was reading about when I started reading it, I truly didn’t expect it to be as sad as it was. It’s a brilliantly written novel, although the amount of Cosmetology lessons bordered on boring after a while, but it is an incurably sad novel and I did have to force myself to finish it, skimming the pages on my way to the end because I just couldn’t cope with Bebe’s horrible life. It was as if the novel – and by extension Bebe herself – had no hope. There was no light seemingly at the end of Bebe’s tunnel. I applaud Jillian Lauren for writing the novel and there will be loads of people who do love the book and are able to connect to the characters and perhaps see the book for what it really is, but I prefer my books to be a tad lighter, to be a tad happier. Pretty is not a pretty novel, but it is very well written and tells the tale of a very difficult subject. I’m just not its target audience.