Warning: This review requires honest self-awareness and slight participation from you.

 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever, in your whole life, felt as if you were not pretty or handsome (I haven’t forgotten you, Men).

Some of you are saying, “Well, of course, but isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder anyway?” Others of you aren’t raising your hand at all (Liars). The rest of you have all five fingertips reaching toward the Heavens, screaming “Me! Me!” I hear you, Brothers and Sisters.

Hollywood tells us Pretty has long, shining hair, flawless skin, a narrow waist, big tits, bleached teeth, a bleached asshole. Hollywood tells us that Handsome is wrinkle-less, has thick hair, chiseled abs, a 12 inch dick. Well, Jillian Lauren’s debut novel, Pretty, calls bullshit.

Pretty is pretty and it can get you a few things. And it doesn’t last long so whatever the hell you can do with it while you have it, go ahead and do it.

After gorgeous wildchild Bebe loses the love of her young life in a car accident that is more or less her fault, her whole world shifts. The starry-eyed hopes and dreams for her life, the travelling jazz parties, the drugs, the booze—it all gets traded in for the safe and often routine rebooted life of a recovering addict. Bebe is not grotesquely maimed after the car accident. She isn’t ruined to the point of complete and utter isolation. But, after crawling on hands and knees through shattered glass, she has very painful and visible scars that she can’t hide. She has lost a part of something she has depended upon for most of her life: Her traditional beauty.

Raise your other hand if you’ve ever felt crazy. Bona fide 9 out of ten screws missing. How many of you diagnose yourself with Web MD on a regular basis? How many have been diagnosed by a doctor? Handed a list of abbreviations and stages and symptoms and have felt everything you are fly out the office window to make room for your new defining label?

MDD, PTSD, CD, ADD. Are the letters in your chart, the corresponding diagnostic numbers, supposed to free you? Or do you walk around for the rest of your life carrying them like a sack of mail addressed to no one? Can I deliver this somewhere? Is there a doorstep I can drop this off on?

Bebe knows her letters. However, what to do with them or how they help solve anything is beyond her. She sits through group therapy with her crazy halfway housemates and counts down the hours until they all graduate from the mandatory vocational program, Moda Beauty Academy, where they do wet-set after wet-set on doll heads alongside Armenian women looking to start their first American careers. The Serenity Rehab housemates are being retrained as humans, categorized, stigmatized and expected to go out in the world as new people, those abbreviations always there, like flashing signs around their necks.

Raise your right foot if you’ve ever, even for a second, lost faith. In people, in life, in whichever God you call to, in yourself.

Jesus is in the polish on my nails. Jesus is in the stucco walls. Jesus is in the sun on my face.

In her best effort to hold on to a piece of her former life—the religious beliefs she had as a child, the crazy unpredictable life she had with Aaron, the beauty she thought she’d be able to lean on for far longer—Bebe dates Jake, a paranoid and delusional schizophrenic who often believes he is the Messiah. And in that way, he connects her to a God she has been searching for in everything around her since childhood.

Jillian Lauren has written an incredibly relatable journey of re-discovery and re-definition with a grace and sense of humor I wish every writer had. One day you’re something, the next day you’re different. Who are you now? Who is Bebe if she isn’t the pretty girl? Who is Bebe in those doctor’s notes? Who is Bebe if she isn’t Christian? These are the questions she has to answer. Jillian Lauren’s writing reflects the voice inside Bebe’s head, inside of our heads—sometimes critical, sometimes harsh, sometimes scattered and unsure and scared, sometimes even dishonest, but always, always sincere.

At this point, you should have both hands above your head, balancing your weight on one foot, maybe even hopping up and down to stay focused on the task of not toppling to the ground. Because being so low is dangerous. Because it’s dark down there. Because once you’re there who knows how long it’ll take you to get back up again.

Don’t look down and keep hopping. More importantly, keep hoping. You’re Bebe.

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LEAH TALLON is a managing editor at Curbside Splendor Publishing, assistant editor of fiction at The Nervous Breakdown and an assistant at Other Voices Books. Her fiction has appeared in Knee-Jerk Magazine and Trilling Magazine. She's busy most of the time but will stop whatever needs to be done for a margarita on the rocks, no salt, and good company.

3 responses to “Review of Pretty, by Jillian Lauren”

  1. Lovely, Leah. I’m off to link it to Jillian’s FB page . . .

  2. […] happy to say that I’ve had a couple of good reviews come in already. Leah Tallon’s at The Nervous Breakdown is my […]

  3. Hillary says:

    This is the best written and most accurate description of the book I’ve read on the Internet. That being said its amazing to me that you compared the reader to Bebe at the end. This book changed my life- I sometime have to just laugh at God for the signs he throws in my face unexpectedly. I didn’t realize until a quarter into the book that her name was BEBE, that was my nickname in high-school. I guess it true what Jillian Lauren says “Even the most faithless among us are waiting to be proven wrong.” Because damn God might as well have laughed in my face at that point. Jesus is in this library book, Jesus is in the stained pages… Jesus has a sense of humor I appreciated so much more after reading this book.

    Even Jillian Lauren says God has a sense of humor where she writes about turning away from God & being sent a “a mad handsome ex marine” who is schizophrenic and thinks he’s messiah. Irony.

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