Pretty Little Dirty by Amanda Boyden is one of those books that I can pick up time and time again. One of those stories for which, although I know the plotline from beginning to end, I still find myself laughing and crying along with the characters. It’s one of those books on my shelf that has been a little too well-loved: it’s dog-eared, a little torn, coffee-stained, and a bit faded. It’s definitely seen better days, but to me that’s how a good book should look, as if you’ve read it so many times that the words have almost worn off the pages.
Pretty Little Dirty is a raw, heart-rending story of the disillusionment and chaos of growing up. It illustrates the lives of two girls, Lisa and Celeste, as they evolve from children into young adults in ’70s and ’80s California. The story depicts how their lives unravel and how their beautifully loyal, yet dangerous friendship will come to dramatically affect both of their futures.
The story begins as the two characters are beginning middle school. Lisa, Boyden’s main character, is captivated by the beauty and sophistication of her new best friend, Celeste Diamond. Even more, Lisa is enraptured by the simplicity and wealth of Celeste’s family in comparison to her own dysfunctional and fragmented home life.
Lisa seeks solace and comfort in the white-picket-fence lifestyle of the Diamonds, leaning on Celeste and her two older sisters for the motherly support and guidance that her mentally ill mother cannot give her. However, the serenity of their sheltered childhood comes to an abrupt end as Celeste, bored by the normalcy of her home life, strives to rebel, dragging Lisa along for the ride through a series of increasingly frequent risky events.
The girls’ descent into the underground realms of the L.A. punk scene is vividly portrayed through Boyden’s unique writing style and voice; with blunt meaningful sentences, she narrates the fragmented thoughts and actions of their tumultuous adolescence.
This is not a story for the faint of heart or for those in search of a light read. Boyden’s poetic prose reveals a harrowing and graphic version of adolescent rebellion, as the girls’ defiant exploration into the punk era of their youth paints a powerful and intense picture. Their experimentation with drugs and sex at times leaves you shocked and anxious; however, this is the nitty-gritty darkness that, in contrast with the almost idyllic feeling of their suburban childhood, draws you into the novel and leaves you wondering how it all could have gone so wrong.