Monday, 4 March 2013

Pretty Girl Thirteen

Angie is thirteen years old when she goes missing. Next thing she knows, she’s standing outside her family home with scars on her ankles and wrists. Three whole years have passed but to Angie, she’s only been gone a few hours at most. She must get to grips with the lost time and adjust to her life as a sixteen year old but if she wants to discover what happened to her, she must confront the secrets locked in her mind.

There was a great idea in here somewhere but overall I felt a little disappointed. I’ve had a good run of novels dealing with memory loss so maybe I was holding it to a very high standard. From the moment of her return, it’s quite obvious what has happened to her; the repressed memories and scars pretty much sum it up. That she doesn’t work it out herself is a little unbelievable even if she does think she is only thirteen. Each time something new was introduced, it was so obvious what it was going to lead to.

It’s mostly told in third person but the basic writing style would have suited the first person voice of a child; even when Angie appears to grow up mentally, the style doesn’t grow with her. This did mean it was a quick and easy read but it was lacking in emotional engagement. Even if she had no memories, wouldn’t the fact that she had lost three years be distressing? That she had horrific scars and the face looking back in the mirror was older than she expected? Instead she seems rather blasé about the whole thing.

This next bit might be a bit of a spoiler, but I feel it explains what is interesting beyond the missing girl story. Angie’s memory loss is explained away by dissociative identity disorder, or what has been more popularly called multiple personality disorder, triggered by the trauma. Her other identities came out to protect her throughout her ordeal and slowly begin to reveal themselves through therapy. Exploring these characters and allowing them to reveal different aspects of her story is a fantastic idea. The changes in narrative voice were well done (again, why I thought first person throughout would have worked better) and also explains why the book starts out in second person.

The things that our minds can do are fascinating and astounding. I’d really like to read more on the subject of DID, either in well researched fiction or non-fiction. I wanted a little bit more psychology around it and I did think the doctor’s treatment sounded a bit made up. If it wasn’t, it really needed a bit more substance to back it up. I’m not sure if it is aimed at younger readers or not, which might explain the lack of more in-depth science.

Pretty Girl Thirteen is published by Harper and is now available in paperback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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  1. It's a shame this one didn't quite come off - the concept sounds really intriguing, but I'm sorry to hear it fell a bit flat!

  2. This sounds like one of those books that has loads of potential but it just fails in the execution. I find the subject matter to be fascinating but it is pretty unbelievable that Angie would have so much time go by without any sort of recollection as to what happened to her. Maybe more research was needed to pull it all together? Sorry to hear this one didn't quite pan out!

    1. I can completely believe her having no recollection, that wasn't my problem. It's more the fact that she was so naive that she didn't have any idea of what could have happened to her. And there was no sense of panic that you would get knowing 3 years of you life had just vanished. Memory is really complex and there are plenty of real life examples of people losing time.

  3. I've a good friend who is married to a brain surgeon, really. His specialty is memory and memory loss. Basically, he says you can only lose memory. Getting it back is just about impossible. Now I can't ever take anything involving recovered memory seriously.

    But the premise does sound really good.

    1. I suppose there's different kinds of memory loss though. You can have been drunk and not remember anything until someone jogs your memory and then it all comes flooding back. The premise of this book was that the memories were held by her other personalities, so they weren't lost. Also people can recover memories that have been suppressed due to mentally traumatic events and not lost due to damage. It's all very complex and I don't think anyone knows the extent of what our minds can do or recover from.

  4. In my teens I read Sybil: The Classic True Story of a Woman Possessed by Sixteen Personalities by Flora Rheta Schreiber. It was a biography and it was both fascinating and chilling. I'd recommend it if you wanted to explore the subject further.

    I am disappointed that the book didn't come off as well, as it was very much on my radarand sounded quite interesting!


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