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Pretty Little Dirty


Pretty Little Dirty

At first glance, Celeste Diamond and Lisa Smith are typical,
white-bread, middle-class sixth graders --- both new to Kansas City
(Missouri), both with much higher than average brains…and
looks. They meet just prior to the start of middle school (which is
scary enough when you aren't the new kid). Things click
immediately and by chapter two they are practically carbon copies
of each other.

Soon, though, it becomes obvious that life for them isn't
completely average. Lisa has a younger brother with whom she just
barely maintains a surface relationship, a fairly typical father
who has two kids and isn't quite sure what to do with them, and
then she has her mother, Janice Joy. The book begins in 1976; were
it at least 1990, it would have been immediately evident to any
physician that Janice Joy had about the worst case of postpartum
depression EVER. Lisa herself admits that her mother has been
"perpetually medicated" since Lisa was two. This means that Janice
Joy spends the first half of the book in her bedroom, shut away
from her family and life itself; in the second half, after a public
breakdown on their front yard, she's is in a mental institution
where she eventually disappears from view.

Celeste has two older sisters and doting parents at home who relish
in admiring their beautiful daughters sitting around the dinner
table every night. They practically adopt Lisa, who blooms under
their care, and as the older daughters leave to go away to college,
she basically becomes their fourth child. She spends the night at
least five times a week and during high school, along with Celeste,
is placed in charge of planning and cooking the evening meal
several times weekly. They become foodies at once and quickly leap
from grilled cheese to real egg-yolk Caesar dressing. However, they
become pawns in Celeste's parents struggle over whether you push
fledglings out of the nest (Mrs. Diamond's approach) or clip their
wings so they'll remain in the nest forever (Mr. Diamond).

Throughout the next seven years, the girls experiment with boys,
alcohol and more, but remain joined at the hip for their primary
source of sustenance. The summer before senior year they begin
hanging out at the local art museum lunchroom where they meet Hank
(a sculptor of some minor local fame) and Ess (an art student).
They are quickly drawn in by the allure of skinny dipping at Hank's
"sculpture house" and playing at being grown up with two
men. Hank and Ess introduce them to pot, hash, adult
sexuality and orgasms. After a year of this (during which all
aspects of the relationships take place within the house, since
Hank and Ess are, after all, grown men, which makes their
indiscretions with the girls illegal), Celeste heads to Berkeley
and Lisa to the University of Wisconsin. Celeste requests Lisa's
presence for Christmas; not desiring the proffered Hawaiian
vacation with her brother, father and father's new girlfriend, Lisa
accepts at once.

The book from here on out becomes a lesson on how to quit college
and become a punk rocker. Celeste has found the stronger drug of
cocaine, decided college is not for her, and is biding time until
she is kicked out of Berkeley. During the Christmas vacation the
two team up with a punk band and travel through California and into
Mexico with them. They become honest to God groupies, trading sex
for favors, dealing out and using drugs to get through the day,
everyday. Ripped fish-net stockings, bruises and scabs become de
for them, as do slam dancing, crabs and blackouts.
Celeste gets kicked out of Berkeley, while Lisa returns to college
only to run back to California where Celeste is missing. She
manages to locate her (living in the mansion of the heroin junkie
son of a movie star) and they live as kept women for some time as
they continue to spiral out of control with drug use, unprotected
sex and violent club episodes.

Lisa's narrative history alternates with brief paragraphs
describing scenes from clubs and punk rock shows. One such chapter,
entitled "Circle Jerks, Encinitas, September '83," depicts the pair
hanging out in a club parking lot drinking rotgut, popping pills
and carving their initials into their arms. These chapters are
disturbing in their succinct documentation of the unseemly downhill
slide the girl's lives were on for two years and the almost
unnatural bond between Lisa and Celeste. Prepare to be shocked,
repulsed and nauseated by these mini-chapters.

PRETTY LITTLE DIRTY is about two girls with A LOT of mother issues.
For Lisa, her mother was absent and it messed her up. Celeste's
mother was present and it messed her up. I only wish I had more
psych in my background so that I could really explore and
understand the "whys" and "how comes" of Lisa and Celeste's tragic
journey. Of course, with a daughter fast approaching adolescence, I
almost wish I hadn't read the book at all --- it got truly scary at
times. But it definitely leaves a lasting imprint on the reader and
gives any parent's mind a lot to mull over.

Reviewed by Jamie Layton on January 19, 2011

Pretty Little Dirty
by Amanda Boyden

  • Publication Date: March 14, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1400096820
  • ISBN-13: 9781400096824