Hardcover, 344 pages
Published March 19th 2013 by Katherine Tegen Books
Pretty Girl-13 is a disturbing and powerful psychological thriller about a girl who must piece together the story of her kidnapping and captivity and then piece together her own identity.
When thirteen-year-old Angela Gracie Chapman looks in the mirror, someone else looks back–a thin, pale stranger, a sixteen-year-old with haunted eyes. Angie has no memory of the past three years, years in which she was lost to the authorities, lost to her family and friends, lost even to herself. Where has she been, who has been living her life, and what is hiding behind the terrible blankness? There are secrets you can’t even tell yourself.
With a tremendous amount of courage and support from unexpected friends, Angie embarks on a journey into the darkest corners of her mind. 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 people responsible, or is there another way to feel whole again?
The novel is compulsively readable. Words scamper off the pages and into your head and you are caught in the grasp of the story as soon as you have opened the book. It keeps you in its grasp until the story is done and the last pages have been turned. It is only when you have managed to create a distance between you and the book that you read that some questions come up and your critical thinking self reasserts itself.
There is no denying that the story is masterfully told. For a debut author, Coley shows bright promise and I am excited to see what she comes up with next. Elizabeth Smart is interesting, her past intriguing and her voice convincing. I am willing to suspend my disbelief and follow her on her journey. And her journey is an exciting one. A mostly introverted one where we travels the labyrinthine turns of her mind and the ways her inner self has sought to protect the core of the person she was – the thirteen year old who has been suspended by her mind’s coping mechanism.
I used to be quite, well, I still am actually, interested by what they used to call multiple personality disorder and have now renamed dissociative identity disorder where due to a trauma or abuse suffered in early childhood, a person develops two or more identities in order to survive the mental consequences of said trauma or abuse which occurs early enough in the formative years that the identity is still in flux and therefore fracturing possible. Multiple personalities are a coping mechanism and I know lots of literature exist to disprove the existence of DID but enough documentation of the illness is present to convince me.
Anyway, Elizabeth suffers from that. She has suffered through horrific situations, kidnapped, sexually abused for years etc. and abused by a close family member even before that so it makes sense that she is not mentally healthy. However, what I had trouble with was that Coley treats these personalities within Elizabeth as somehow separated from her and their destruction does not result in Elizabeth remembering the abuses she suffered. When these personalities faded away, they took the memories with them and I couldn’t believe that. The brain is one, the memories remain. And yet Elizabeth does not suffer the true horrors that these personalities shielded her from. It was unbelievable and threw me out of the story on more than one occasion. I felt that there was a dearth of emotional sincerity and depth.
This girl has been sexually abused for extended periods by two different people but there’s no sign of that abuse in the way she conducts herself, relates and interacts with other people. I know Coley is working on the presumption that Elizabeth wasn’t the one who went through the horrors…only she was. SHE is the one person in whom the different identities existed so I needed to see some serious emotional backlash. I wanted her to show me depression, sadness and anger. And then the end? Was way too neat. I don’t even know what happened between the fire in her mind and the fire in the real house.
So yeah, the reading experience is a great one but there are gaping holes where logic is concerned. I still recommend it to you but don’t go into this expecting verisimilitude. There has been a lot of artistic license taken with the portrayal and expression (and possibly the therapy and cure) of DID.