Fifteen-year-old Meredith (“Chirp”) is coming undone because her father, who sexually molested and raped her when she was twelve, is coming home from prison.
It’s clear from the outset of Such a Pretty Girl that Meredith’s mother will not protect her. She’s just way too excited about her husband’s homecoming and can’t understand why Meredith isn’t showing enthusiasm. This even though she knows that her husband raped her daughter. Three years earlier, at the hospital, she told the bleeding Meredith not to tell anyone, that dad, like all people, makes mistakes.
The whole neighborhood knows that a sexual predator is coming home and almost everyone resents his presence, fears what he will do to their children, and—in the ‘blame the victim’ model—stays clear of Meredith. However, she does have some supporters—Nigel, the cop who arrested Charles on the night of the rape, and Andy and his mom Mrs. Mues. Andy has also been raped by Charles. After a later accident, Andy is inexplicably paralyzed from the waist down. He and Meredith are boyfriend and girlfriend.
The entire story takes place over the course of a few days with Meredith having lots of italicized flashbacks to scenes of her father both being a good dad (when she was very young) and a sexual predator. No matter how she tries to sort out what is happening to her, she feels that she will have to be victimized again in order to put her dad back in jail, and that no one will be able to help her.
Is she right?
High school housekeeping: Such a Pretty Girl is a tight little novel—both short and physically compact, it’s very portable. It’s an easy read, somewhere in the sixth grade level, although its content is clearly meant for older teens. I recommend it for most high school students, but I think it will have particular appeal to reluctant readers.
I’m not sure how students will reaction to Meredith’s mom. By anyone’s measure, she is one dimensional—entirely shallow, worried about keeping up with the Joneses (without recognizing how all the Joneses hate her), concerned about her fading good looks, and completely out of touch with the damage child sexual abuse does to her daughter. She serves as a mouthpiece for details of setting, so her unnatural conversation may be disconcerting. The reader doesn’t know why she is so oblivious when her own mother (Meredith’s grandmother) is much more centered. I attributed it to the fact that her husband brainwashed her so early. (They began dating when she was twelve.) However, she’s a good villain—showing her own evil is banal and entirely unlike her husband’s. She does tremendous damage just by not stepping up as a mom. She the kind of person we love to hate.