Mini-Reviews: Pretties & Abandon

For the Holiday book read I was able to get 2 books under my belt, namely Pretties by Scott Westerfeld and Abandon by Meg Cabot. What did I think? That I pretty much wanted to abandon both series.

It’s not as bad as I’m making it sound, but neither book made me want to read the sequels. I didn’t regret reading either, and I think I learned a few things about my own preference and what not to do with my own novels. They’re still fairly well-written overall, and it really may just be my own preference.

PRETTIES

PrettiesLet’s start with Mr. Westerfeld’s book. Let me begin with saying I loved Uglies and it’s the whole reason I was dying to read Pretties in the first place. I’ll try to be a bit general so as not to give out spoilers. But this is Book 2 of the series, so some spoilers for Book 1 may appear.

Pretties is the continuing story of a girl named Tally who lives in a world where all anyone wants to do is be made pretty—a surgery that happens when you’re 16. But Tally gets mixed up with some rebels and decides she doesn’t want the surgery. Plus they discover it does something to your brain, kind of like mind control. But the only way to test the cure is for Tally to go get pretty. In Book 2 her friends attempt to rescue her from her pretty brainwashing.

The majority of Pretties I was very involved. Mr. Westerfeld had me right at the beginning with some good action and intrigue. In fact, seeing Tally figure things out with her new boy Zane was the more enjoyable part of the book. It was the end that gave me a sour taste. When I realized not only was this book essentially the same cookie cutter pattern of Uglies, but that I’d likely have to go through that same pattern all over again if I continued forward, I was done. One of Tally’s best friends from Uglies whom she couldn’t stop talking about like Bella on Edward suddenly became a throwaway character.

I also felt like all this relationship we’d built up with the beau from Uglies got tossed out the window too. Pretties might as well have been a start up to its own series, since most of what happened in Uglies didn’t really matter. In fact if you started the series with Pretties you’d probably be fine to finish it.

WHAT I LEARNED

  1. Don’t spend a lot of time building up relationships if you’re going to carelessly toss them aside. And if you must toss them aside, at least give them a proper send off.
  2. Try not to follow a formula for your books. We the readers will see it, and while we may forgive you if the story is compelling enough, it’s still quite a risk to take.

The grade I would give Pretties is B- or 3.5 out of 5 stars.

ABANDON

You may know Meg Cabot’s other works, since Disney made a couple of them into movies called The Princess Diaries. Well, Abandon is a slightly darker toned novel, a re-telling of the Greek Myth of Persephone and Hades.

I had a really hard time getting into this book. The main character Pierce kept talking about something that happened to her when she died—only she doesn’t let us know what that something is until nearly 40 pages in. Most of the beginning of the book is comprised of disjointed memories of things that already happened mixed in with uninteresting events happening in the present. It really made me feel like this was Book 2 of a series, and I kept double-checking that yes, this was in fact Book 1.

So after stumbling through some disjointed rememberings and back story I’m never sure when has exactly happened in what order, the story starts to pick up about 100 pages in, and piques my interest at about page 200. Now I understand why people told me NOT to start my novel with flashbacks. It confuses the jujubes out of your readers.

No disrespecting Meg Cabot, but I probably wouldn’t recommend this read, not when there are better books out there—including many written by her.

I do have to give this Book Cover kudos though. It really ties into the story well, especially the title and hint of a necklace that’s a big part of the story. Well done on the cover!

WHAT I LEARNED

  1. Think very carefully about including too much back story up front. And my advice is to keep flashbacks out of the first few chapters at least. Give your readers a chance to get to know your characters and empathize with them a little, then you can toss a little back story our way. This goes for prologues too. Part of the fun in reading story is NOT knowing everything we need to know right away. Let us discover these things in a more natural way. We certainly don’t walk up to people we’ve only just met and ask them for their whole life story. Don’t do this to us with a novel either. Anime series tend to do this really well—sometimes even getting a bit too sparse with what’s going on. Less is more. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to know all of this some time in the story, just not all at once and certainly not in the beginning.
  2. Don’t expect your readers to believe the romance just because you tell your characters to. The MC is in love with this underworld guy, I guess. It felt like news to me (though I suspected this was where the story was heading). In fact, this book was oddly similar to Twilight, minus the Edward gush-festing. Girl likes dark, troubled boy. He’s kind of crazy and creepy, but somehow she finds him attractive anyway. But since they’re apart and not together most of the book, I found any sense of romance (except for what I was told to believe) lacking.

The grade I give Abandon is C or 3 out of 5 stars. It wasn’t awful, and I liked it better than Twilight, but I won’t be reading Book 2—probably ever. I’m glad I read it though. She did do some decent things with voice any of you YA authors should take note of.

So there you have it, my mini-reviews. I’ll see if I can’t get a few more posted as the Holiday Book Read continues.

Now what do you think? Have you read either of these books? Do you disagree with my reviews? Have you read anything that had a similar problem? Let me know in the comments below.

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13 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: Pretties & Abandon

  1. Interesting advice. There’s always something to learn about writing from reading novels, perhaps most especially when we don’t like the book. I haven’t read either of these books, and I probably won’t, but I tend to like books that put more of the back story in the beginning. If it’s compelling enough, then I want to read the rest of the book to put the pieces together.

    • Uglies (first book of the series) is pretty good, if you like books similar to the Hunger Games. But Abandon, meh. Both Uglies and Pretties captured the unique voice of the world well, which I felt made them both worth the read. I just can’t take the same formula a third time.

      But I think you’re right, sometimes bad or less good examples can be just as instructive as the good ones, especially if we work hard to understand why we didn’t like it. Do you have any book examples where it was not great but you learned a lot?

      • Yeah, one example is Beth Harbison’s When in Doubt, Add Butter, which is on the lighter end of women’s fiction. It had a decent opening, and then it went downhill from there. It solidified the advice I had heard that too many coincidences in the plot is insulting to readers. It also made me take almost every brand name mentioned in my MS out (I didn’t have many, but I had some and I still kept two or three because it was necessary). Harbison’s novel read like an advertisement! It was also too optimistic about a medical condition that I know a fair amount about. I gave it a very negative review on my blog on July 31st in case you want to check out what else I said. It’s not the worst book I’ve read this year, but it’s one of the worst.

  2. Pretty much everything I have been reading as of late has ended with me going “I’m not pursuing the series.” And I’ve been feeling and about it, so to hear another human say the same. WOOT! Thanks for making me feel less bad. 🙂

    • I think it’s especially hard for us writers to be patient because we’re busy enough as it is, we can’t waste any of our precious time on stuff we’re not really interested in. There are plenty of other books out there to be read. My philosophy (and it sounds like it’s yours too) is to finish what I started (unless it’s super craptastic) and then proceed no further if it’s a series I’m not interested in. I gave them a full book to win me over, and if they didn’t, well, I’m out.

      So don’t feel bad. It was their job to pull you in. If they failed, the fault lies with them—or if it’s personal preference, no hard feelings, right? That’s the way I look at it.

  3. I read “Uglies,” “Pretties,” and “Specials,” and I totally understand where you’re coming from. If you do decide to pick up the third book, though, you’ll see that both relationships end up being important in that one. Still, I didn’t read the last book – I was kind of done with the series by that point. I’m glad I read them; they were interesting and a fast read, but I never really felt that sense of connection with the main character, and it did feel formulaic.

    I never read “Abandon,” but it was on my soon-to-read list…maybe I’ll bump it down a few books then. Great that you were able to mine these books for good writing advice – even disappointing books have their uses. 🙂

    • Hmmm… maybe in the future then I’ll check out “Specials,” but it’s going to have to wait until I make it through a substantial amount of other books. Hey, I don’t know if I ever asked you this before, but do you know of any other YA books like mine? I’m looking for good comparatives for the future. Something a little dark, maybe even with demons involved, but epic fantasy? The closest I’ve gotten so far is “Graceling.” I’m sure there’s something similar out there, nothing new under the sun, but I’m struggling to find it. Any suggestions?

    • I don’t know that you’re missing tons. I liked it, but it’s kind of a Hunger Games redux. The opening line about a cat vomit sunset is what intrigued me. For how formulaic everything turns, he really knows how to do voice. That’s probably what got those published.

        • Oh really? I loved it because it really showed how Tally viewed her world as 100% ugly until she got “pretty.” But, yep, I guess different people’s taste.

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