As you may have noticed, I’ve been reading the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard for the first time and honestly rather enjoying myself! The television series was something that I loved until it got super convoluted and it was obvious no one had any idea where things were going. I legit watched closely like an investigator 🔍 and took notes to figure out who A was, but by the end of the series I was spite-watching it just to see how it ended. Spoiler alert: not well. Many people told me that the book series was better (which is often the case with adaptation) and completely different.
I wanted to do something a little different with my review for Pretty Little Liars. The way the series is written is each arc is really one story (so books 1-4 roughly follow seasons 1 and 2, ending with the first A reveal). It made the most sense to me to review the arcs of the series in one post, so here is my review for books 1-4 of Pretty Little Liars!
Pretty Little Liars #1
‘Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.’ -Benjamin Franklin.
It’s really weird to read a book that you are intimately aware of but never read. If you’ve watched the television series it is important to note that there were adjustments to the timeline and events from the book (as always, got to make it more interesting for tv). It’s been three years since Ali disappeared from a sleepover with her four best friends. Now it is right before the start of their junior year at Rosewood Day, a prestigious prep school, and the girls that were once inseparable are like strangers to one another. Aria, Hanna, Spencer, and Emily are going about their lives, still haunted by the secrets that Ali held over their heads, and embarking on adventures that they would hate for others to find out about.
‘I’m still here, bitches. And I know everything. -A’
Shepard did a good job isolating the four former friends throughout this book. You get a sense of each character, their complicated histories with Alison and each other, and their deepest secrets that Ali held over their heads. The girls don’t really even interact with one another until the final ten pages of the book and it was charming to see the tension fall away as they took comfort in one another. We all have those friends that we drift apart from but when you reconnect it is like no time has passed, and for these girls they seem to have found home in one another. They are bound together by the past and the mysterious A that has been sending them threatening messages about the secrets no one but Alison knew.
‘What if the texts were from Ali’s ghost? […] And spirits from the dead sometimes contacted the living to make amends, right? It was like their final homework assignment before graduating to heaven’
Of the changes from the book that the tv show made, the most apparent was to make the cast more diverse and appeal to a wider audience. The only characters of color in the book so far are Maya (black) and Wren (half Korean) in a very affluent, stereo-typically country club preppy town. I think that was an excellent choice. I am hoping that Emily’s mother’s apparent racism is challenged in the text in future books.
Overall I really enjoyed Pretty Little Liars and am excited to read the next book in the series. This is a light read but enjoyable, and you can tell that the story and mystery have been plotted well. This is a young adult book that handles some sensitive topics and also captures the feelings of being in the awkward teenage years. I’d recommend this for mid/upper YA readers based on the content of the book.
Representation: two characters of color (black, half-Korean), lgbtqiap+ (f/f romance)
Content/trigger warnings: bulimia, cutting (referenced), racism (“I just don’t see what you have in common with people like that,” unchallenged so far), sexual situations, teacher/high school student relationship, underage drinking
Flawless (Pretty Little Liars #2)
“In a place where everything looked so flawless, it was hard to stand out.”
Flawless picks up right after the first book ends with the first group A message. The book does a really good job of making the case for who A could be and casting doubt on everyone. Interestingly enough the girls are still separated and not really re-bonded yet in this book, unlike in the tv series.
I am still waiting for Emily to challenge her mother’s racism more than a couple of instances of her perspective saying “possibly racist reasons” that her mother doesn’t want her to hang out with Maya.
There isn’t any character development in this installment, although this book seems to cover like 2 or 3 days. I do want to say that the characters I loved in the show (Spencer & Hanna) I don’t like much in the book. I find myself resonating most with Aria in text.
Representation: panic attacks, lgbtqiap+ (f/f romance)
Content/Trigger warnings: assault, inferred potential rape, eating disorder, death & suicide, racism (“I just don’t see what you have in common with people like that,” unchallenged so far)
Perfect (Pretty Little Liars #3)
“It’s amazing what you don’t see, though. Even when it’s right in front of your eyes.”
I actually enjoyed Perfect a lot more than the first two books in the series. I feel like while action was happening, a lot of groundwork was being made to develop the four main characters – both who they were in relation to Alison and who they have become in her absence. This definitely paid off for me big time.
I mentioned in my prior reviews that I like how Shepard isolates the girls in the books (in contrast to their quickly re-bonding in the tv series with A’s harassment); it feels more real that the girls have to reconcile their pasts that they have all left behind, but A won’t let the past lie. Three years is a long time to have been drifted apart and they each have their own lives now. With A drudging up the past and watching their every move, it is inevitable that the girls will rekindle their friendship through this new trauma of A.
The bullying in this series gets really intense here and A manages to drive a wedge between the girls, their families, and their friends. They are completely isolated and alone and it is truly heartbreaking. If you are sensitive to bullying, please tread lightly my friends.
Interestingly enough, the girl’s biggest secrets are all related to the mistakes they are making now. And things get really dark for each of the four ex-best friends in this book. Tensions are running high and A is pitting them against one another, sending them clues to what really happened to Ali.
“P.S. I may be a bitch, but I’m not a murderer. Here’s a clue for the clueless: someone wanted something of Ali’s. The killer is closer than you think.”
These continue to be enjoyable and quick reads, and even though I was obsessed with the tv series, enough is different that I don’t trust that I know anything. I was on the edge of my seat while reading and had to start book 4 straight away. I am honestly devouring these and loving everyone moment.
Representation: lgbtqiap+ (f/f romance)
Content/Trigger warnings: bullying, conversion therapy, eating disorder, homophobia, bad parenting (sorry but kicking your daughters out = selfish af in these instances)
Unbelievable (Pretty Little Liars #4)
“The obstacle is the path. Meaning what wouldn’t kill Aria would just make her stronger.”
I’ve finished the first arc for Pretty Little Liars and I have to say: I think I enjoyed the books more than the series! Our girls have been put through the ringer and all the developments from book 3 continue here. While books 1 and 2 were all setting the stage for book 3,Unbelievable is the direct continuation & resolution of the previous book.
There isn’t much to add that wasn’t said in my review of Perfect . By the end of this book A is revealed… and let me tell you – it was much more believable for me than in the tv series. I am really interested in Jenna’s character and hope she plays a role in the next arc of the series.
This was a satisfying end to the first arc of Pretty Little Liars. A’s been unmasked after torturing Aria, Emily, Hanna, and Spencer but we all know that there will be a new A in town, waiting for the Liars to fall back into their old ways. And I look forward to continuing with the series soon!
Overall I really enjoyed the first arc of the series! I was surprised how differently I would feel about the characters in print but knowing what happened from the tv series didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all. Enough was changed that it was as much about the journey to see how we got there, and in terms of reasoning I feel the case makes more sense in the book. It is worth noting that the books are much darker than the tv show, so please read my content warnings for each book and exercise care before picking them up. The first two seasons followed the first arc closely for the most part but I am beginning to see more departures from the original text cropping up. I began Wicked (PLL #5) last night and… I feel like I am in for a wild ride.
You can find information about my rating criteria here.