Jamee Wills is experiencing the jungle of her high school’s operating system. Okay, a straight-A older sister, Darcy, to which teachers love to compare her failing grades, a very touchy boyfriend, memories of an ex-8th grade boyfriend with a sketchy rep, mean girls, and the one thing she’s actually looking forward to: cheerleading. That is, until, the shy, awkwardly uncoordinated girl, Angel McCallister experiences bullying during cheer tryouts. Each time Jamee stands up for Angel, the bullies form more grudges… and eventually rumors. Now an awful text message is circulating the school. As she experiences the ugly side of insecurities, school, family, and friends, Jamee finds herself torn between multiple forces: her desirous boyfriend, social acceptance, standing against bullying, pulling up her grades afterschool aka missing cheerleading, or doing the one thing that she’s good at, that keeps her sane.
Upon her first quarter of high school, Jamee is already swamped with issues all around. Guidance counselor meetings, parents solely focused on the new baby, a father who has recently come back to the family, failing grades, and the lack of support from her parents and teachers to pursue cheerleading. The plot is beautifully sculpted, and I believe it is due to Ms. Folan’s attentiveness to the reality that there is typically more than one conflict in one’s life. So, as an author, she decided to not allow a worked up 14-year old be the voice of the story, however, she also did not leave us out on her interesting thoughts. The character we understand and hear from the most is Jamee. She is the only one whose mind we can directly see into, and we often see her side of things. However, the voice is still of a separated narrator. As readers, we are allowed to not be completely overwhelmed with all that is occurring, but rather have well rounded ideas of the situations and also peer through Jamee’s eyes continuously. It is this skill that kept me hooked, kept me standing by Jamee’s side all the while, and sit with her at the dinner table, in the pizza parlor, in the gym, sweaty locker room, and bustling hallways.
The plot was never too surreal and never too understated. Darcy, Jamee, Vanessa, Mrs. Guessner, Angel, Tasha, Aunt Charlotte, Amberlynn, and Desmond were realistic characters that everyone has: the best friend, the older sister, the shy girl, the insecure bully, the aunt you never bonded with, and the boyfriend that just wasn’t right. I am afraid that I made these characters sound like superficial stereotypes, but they, however, were authentic. Darcy served as Jamee’s foil character; the older sister who people were cool with, but often felt was too “pure” to hang with. So when Jamee stepped into the picture, she was the mini Darcy, cool, new, great cheerleader, and with a past that people felt more comfortable with, solely because it was a past filled with mistakes. Mrs. Guessner, Jamee’s algebra teacher represented all of Jamee’s teachers, who wanted to see more. Ms. Folan filled her with the well meant aggression often seen in teachers pushing students to do better. Jamee’s mother and father stood behind Ms. Folan. They were so preoccupied with building a new relationship and a new child, that Jamee’s grades and issues at school seemed to burdensome to deal with. Once again, I felt Ms. Folan succeeded in building a believable situation; Jamee acted alone with many of her decisions, feeling abandoned, and it resulted in harder times, more lies, and more disappointment. Our antagonists proved to be Vanessa Reiley and her crew. Vanessa was intent on being alpha, to the point that she butchered the weak Angel, who really would have never been a threat to her social dominance. Power hunger results in unnecessary paranoia, which we saw in Vanessa, and later blossoms into hate. Of course, I can’t reveal the ending of the story. I have simply set the stage for the fight Jamee puts up. With all odds against her, including her friends and family at times, Jamee is willing to sacrifice sanity if it means proving a point. All that being said, Pretty Ugly strongly appeals to anyone that admires young adult stories. I would recommend it to preteens or young teens for the relevance it has to their lives. For this reason, Pretty Ugly receives 4 stars.
By Rachel Pyfrom