Pretty Little Liars (Arc 1)

(Contains spoilers)

Pretty Little Liars — Never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret

The front cover of 2006 Pretty Little Liars that features Spencer.

Pretty Little Liars is a young adult novel series by American author Sara Shepard and, as we already know, the inspiration behind the 2010 TV-show of the same name. Shepard has divided the series loosely to different (by now 4) arcs based on the chronology of the events. The first novel by the same name of the series was published in 2006. Chronically the first book of the series would be companion book, Ali’s Pretty Little Liars (2013), but hence it’s publication date, it might have various spoilers for the rest of the series, so I decided to start with the original first book.

Pretty Little Liars introduces the five main characters, and, similarly to the TV-series, sets in the time of Alison’s disappearance. The book covered a lot of the same events as the first season of the show, but altogether unexpectedly little time period in their lives — one week or so. I was also surprised how grown apart the Liars were after their leader was no more around to keep them close. The girls interacted and became close to each other way faster in the TV-show, but in the book series just around third (Perfect) and fourth (Unbelievable) book.

“Everyone has something to hide — especially high school juniors Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna. Spencer covets her sister’s boyfriend. Aria’s fantasizing about her English teacher. Emily’s crushing on the new girl at school. And Hanna uses some ugly tricks to stay beautiful. But they’ve all kept an even bigger secret since their friend Alison vanished.” (Back cover summary of the Pretty Little Liars)

The Pretty Little Liars main cast based on the descriptions on books from Pretty Little Liars fandom and Pinterest.

There were some differences between the book and the show, which were mostly associated to the characterization and looks of the main cast. In the book Emily is fair skinned Caucasian and ginger haired girl with freckles. She has three siblings — one younger one who still lives at home, and two older ones who are at college. Hanna has brown hair, and on the contrary Spencer, Melissa and Mona are blondes. Wren is half Korean and his surname is Kim unlike the show version where he’s fully (whitewashed) Caucasian, Wren Kingston.

The TV-show arguably placed Aria to the role of the main character. She starts the series by returning to Rosewood, gets the first “A” message and gets zoomed in during the intro. While the book series obviously follows the same plot as the show at first, her storyline fell surprisingly flat. She has some identity issues and tries to make sense of them by having a fling with her teacher. The book version of the relationship, however, don’t hold the same suspense as in the show, and their interactions fortunately remain minimal. Hanna and Mona are the mean girls at the school. They don’t switch from one addition to other (from eating disorder to shoplifting) like they did in the show, but instead continually show the signs of dangerous eating habits that they have developed. Spencer’s obsession on outdoing Melissa on everything is pretty similar to the TV-show version of her. Spencer actively flirts with Ian and Wren, but it’s obvious that the men started the flirtation and pursued Spencer. She still gets all the blame from the situation with Wren, and her parents don’t seem to care that their underage daughter was influenced and groomed by a much older guy.

I believe that Emily is the character in the books that gets the most attention. She’s the Aria in the written version of Pretty Little Liars. Her storyline in the book, as well as the show (at first), is the most interesting to me but only the written version succeed on making it stand out from the rest of them. Emily realizes that she’s living her life for someone else — swimming, and dating Ben because of the pressure from her parents and other siblings. Her storyline stays consistent and relevant throughout (at least) the first arc.

Flawless — Beauty is only skin deep

The front cover of 2007 Flawless that features Hanna.

Flawless is the second novel to Pretty Little Liars series, and was published in 2007. This book focuses more on the aftermath of the first book and it has, similarly to the first one, very short timeline.

“Four pretty little liars have been very bad girls. Spencer stole her sister’s boyfriend. Aria is brokenhearted over her English teacher. Emily likes her new friend Maya... as much more than a friend. Hanna’s obsession with looking flawless is making her sick. But their most horrible secret yet is so scandalous that the truth would ruin them forever.” (Back cover summary of Flawless)

Spencer starts dating Wren and devotes all her free time to him, which makes her miss on school work. Getting encouragement from “A”, she decides to plagiarize Melissa’s old essay. Eventually Wren leaves Spencer in order to pursue Melissa again. Melissa as a character is like a poisonous apple — sweet on the outside but bitter on the inside. I understand why she’s mad at Spencer, I myself was getting really annoyed at her, which was surprising because I loved her in the show, but she should acknowledge that Spencer is a child and the older men that she’s been with are acting predatory. Spencer’s known to want to be better than Melissa, and graves to see the defeat on her eyes, which makes her not innocent in this situation, but Melissa’s boyfriends are still fixated on the fact that Spencer is a gullible minor. It’s Melissa’s job to protect her little sister and not bring those guys around her anymore.

Aria and Ezra’s relationship is on hold as she starts to get closer to Hanna’s ex-boyfriend, Sean. Contrariwise on the show, Noel is also a fairly decent guy and a good candidate for Aria’s love interest. “A” pressures Aria to meet with Meredith at a yoga studio and get her to end the affair with Byron before Ella gets to know about it. She’s not successful since Meredith tells Aria that she and Byron are in love with each other. “A” reveals the affair to Ella before Aria can, and she ends things with Byron but also kicks Aria out. I understand that at first Ella might be angry and disappointed at Aria for not telling her the truth, but she’s literally a child. It’s not her fault nor her responsibility to meddle with her parents’ relationship. Ella becomes one of my least favorite characters as the series progresses.

Similarly to Aria, Hanna struggles with her family relationships. Her mother, Ashley, seems very distant to her and doesn’t hold her accountable on anything. The bad parenting doesn’t end there since her father abandoned her when he started a new relationship with Isabel, and is back in her life only when she gets into trouble with authorities. Isabel’s daughter and Hanna’s father’s new step-daughter, Kate, has a lot of similarities with Melissa. She seems innocent and friendly on the outside but at every change she gets, she tries to sabotage Hanna. It’s hard for me to understand her motives since keeping Hanna’s dad all to herself and her mom seems to be an easy task. Hanna and her dad don’t have a close relationship nor even keep in contact. At the same time Hanna and Sean are broken up and it’s no wonder that Hanna, being so insecure about her appearance, gets the confirmation that that is the reason for the rejection on both incidents. Sean is reasonable about his believes and has every right to end things with Hanna, but I believe that he was aware of Hanna’s feelings towards him, and should’ve had the decency to tell her about him and Aria, and about the fact that he has moved on.

Emily and Ben are broken up hence him finding her and Maya on the photo booth. He’s obviously hurt from the cheating (which is understandable) but later starts to show really homophobic and dangerous behavior towards her. He tries to force himself onto her multiple times after the break up to “prove” that she still likes boys. Emily gets close with Toby due to their common hobby, and he’s the one to intervene when Ben starts harassing Emily. Unfortunately Toby’s character in the books differ drastically from his TV-show version. He’s not the victim of Jenna’s abusing but instead is the abuser himself. Due to his suspicious behavior at the charity event, the Liars are certain that he’s “A”. At the end of the book he commits suicide because of the guilt, and he and Emily are not able to develop the friendship that I was so attached to in the show. Also he and Spencer hardly share scenes together so, needless to say, they are not love interests. The TV-version of Toby was planned to be killed away too, but because the audience liked him (probably because all the added positive features), the writers decided to keep him around.

Perfect — It’s not bragging if it’s true

The front cover of 2007 Perfect that features Aria.

The third novel of the Pretty Little Liars series is called Perfect, and it was released the same year as Flawless, 2007. Needless to say, Perfect continues the storyline from where Flawless left it. The liars are still harassed by “A”, whose identity they through they figured out in the previous book. On top of “A”, the residents of Rosewood have another tormenter, the stalker of Rosewood, which this time, gets publicity by the media.

“In Rosewood, Pennsylvania, four perfect-lookin girls aren’t nearly as perfect as they seem. Aria can’t resist her forbidden ex. Hanna is on the verge of losing her BFF. Emily is freaking out over a simple kiss. And Spencer can’t keep her hands off anything that belongs to her sister.” (Back cover summary of Perfect)

Since Emily broke things off with Ben, Maya was under the impression that now they could start dating and become more serious. However, Emily had already made it clear that she’s not ready to go public with her, hence her own prejudices and the homophobia in her family. “A” decides to out Emily in front of her parents, swimming team, and friends, which creates more distance between the girls. I believe that her decision to focus on herself for awhile was the right thing to do, not only to give her the time she needs to sort out her feelings, but also to protect herself from the creeps (including Mike and Noah) at school who blatantly fetishize lesbians. Emily’s parents decide to send her to conversion therapy where she would interact with other “cured” lesbians. When she realizes that the treatment hasn’t helped her mentor either, she begins to accept her sexuality. As a last resort to keep Emily away from Maya, she gets sent to her strict, conservative relatives to Iowa.

Meanwhile, Spencer is getting deeper into the lie of plagiarizing, since her teacher informs her that she’s been nominated to the Golden Orchid- essay competition with Melissa’s Econ paper. Her parents’ are so proud of her that they organize a photoshoot, and hair, makeup, and wardrobe fittings, for Sentinel-magazine cover. Melissa seems to be surprisingly encouraging about the whole situation until she and their parents find out that Spencer got nominated because she cheated. After careful consideration, they decide to keep the secret in order to retain the dignity of the family.

Aria and Sean begin officially dating in the third book, and she even stays at his parents’ place after Ella kicks her out of their house. Aria cheats on Sean with Ezra, which Sean finds out about and breaks things off with her. She’s not anymore welcomed to live with Sean and his parents, and she’s once again homeless. Sean also calls the police on Ezra, which leads him spending one night at jail. After getting out, he decides to move out of Rosewood, and proposes that he and Aria would meet again and try out the relationship both as consenting adults after a couple of years. I’m so relieved that Shepard acknowledged the predatory situation, and didn’t try to romanticize it like I. Marline King did. This is exactly how I would’ve approved Aria and Ezra’s relationship in the show!

Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter (1850).

Besides the relationship mess that Aria puts herself in, she has obvious family issues too. Her mother threw her out of their family home, and his father lives with his new girlfriend. Aria compares Byron’s girlfriend, Meredith, to Hester Prynne in Scarlet Letter who cheated on her husband and is forced to wear a red “A” on her “for the stain on your conscience”. She wishes the same kind on humiliation to Meredith, because she’s “a homewrecker” but not to her father who’s actually responsible for the cheating and separation. And when we think about cheating, Aria is more like Hester than Meredith, because she was the cheating partner in her relationship. The underlying misogyny and hypocrisy in Aria’s character is laughable.

I wasn’t a big fan of Mona in the show, but in the books, she annoys me even more. She jumps into conclusions and gets pissed at everything Hanna does. She expects Hanna to have only her as a friend, even though she herself has another group of friends on the side. The most horrifying thing happens when Mona disinvites Hanna to her birthday party and “A” later sends Hanna a tight evening dress to wear to the party, making Hanna believe that Mona changed her mind and wants her to come after all. When she gets there, Mona’s not only rude to her, but also fat shames, and makes her the joke of the party after her already tight dress tears from the sides. Fortunately Lucas, whom Hanna has a blooming romance with, is there to help her. The TV-show Lucas is one of my least favorite characters, but in the books I really like him. He’s a decent guy who uplifts Hanna, and (at least for what we know) a good love interest for her.

At the end of the book, when Hanna is leaving Mona’s party, she gets a text message from “A”, that shows a real phone number instead being encrypted as usual. She recognizes the number and is on her way to reveal “A”’s identity to the Liars when she gets hit by a car.

“She knew too much. — A”

The Liars are starting to suspect that Spencer had something to do with Ali’s murder. She was the one who had the courage to stand up to Ali when Emily, Hanna, and Aria were more willing to cooperate with her, and that’s why they argued a lot. Ali went as far as to say that Spencer was “not to be messed with”, implying that she had a violent temper.

Unbelievable — Don’t believe everything you hear

The front cover of 2008 Unbelievable that features Emily.

The fourth book, Unbelievable, was published in 2008, and it finishes the first arc of the series. Hanna suffers from amnesia after the hit-and-run, so she doesn’t remember the identity of “A” anymore. She also lost all of the memories from Mona’s birthday party, and despite Lucas’ numerous warnings about Mona, she still restores their friendship. Spencer, Hanna, and Mona begin to spend a lot of time together, because they are throwing Hanna a Halloween themed welcome back party due to her recovery from the accident. Mona and Spencer become such a close friends, that Hanna and Mona even plan on including Spencer to their clique.

“Four pretty little liars’ charmed lives have turned into living nightmares. Emily has been shipped of to Iowa to live with her ultraconservative cousins. Aria’s boyfriend is behind bars-because of her. Spencer is afraid she was involved in Ali’s murder. But Hanna’s fate is much worse: She’s clinging to life in the hospital because she knew too much.” (Back cover summary of Unbelievable)

Emily’s parents sent her to Iowa to her aunt and uncle’s. Their style of parenting is very conservative — tight schedules, clear division of chores, “appropriate” clothing, no makeup, phone, swearing, and such. However, Emily’s cousins didn’t follow the rules on private, and they had the habit of sneaking out of the house to attend parties with their friends. Emily went with them and met Trisha Taylor, who she immediately hit things off and even flirted a bit. When Emily’s aunt and uncle get to find out about the sneaking out, it was easy for the cousins to blame Emily, the newcomer who already had bad reputation. They planned on punishing Emily by removing more of her freedom, but she managed to run off first. When the news of Emily’s escape made it to her parents, and while she hadn’t been in contact with anyone, her parents decided to file a missing person report, and even talk about her disappearance in TV. Her parents promised to accept her the way she is as long as she returns home. They took annoyingly long to realize that the happiness and pure existence of their daughter is way more important than her life decisions that might not suite them, but some parents never realize this, so good for her.

Spencer is still struggling with the guilt from cheating on the Golden Orchid competition, and at the end of the book decides to confess the plagiarism. Melissa starts dating Ian again, and despite the multiple rejections from Spencer, Ian still tries to flirt with her behind Melissa’s back. Melissa confronts Spencer about Ian, and they in general interact more in this book compared to previous books. Spencer still hasn’t cleared the suppressed memories from the night of Ali’s disappearance, and she fears that she was the one who hurt Ali. However, the suspicion suddenly shifts when “A” claims that Melissa was responsible of Ali’s murder since she was jealous of the relationship that Ali and Ian had.

At the night of Hanna’s party, the Liars, from the encouragement of Mona, decide to turn Melissa in. Mona offers to drive Spencer to the police station while Hanna and Emily stay at the party. Aria has been taking an art class which Jenna also attends, and she confesses to Aria that “The Jenna Thing” was actually planned by Jenna and Ali, because Jenna wanted Toby sent away. When Aria arrives at the party and shares the news to Hanna and Emily, Hanna regains her memory about “A”’s identity: Mona. They inform Spencer about the situation, but Mona quickly realizes that she’s been revealed. One of the biggest distinctions from the show is that the Liars include police in their plans way more often. They go to the police station to inform that Spencer is in danger, while Darren gets a phone call from Spencer where she hints about their location. Mona drives to Floating Man’s Quarry where she tries to explain the reasoning for her actions, and recruit Spencer to the A-Team. Since Spencer rejects her proposal, Mona attacks her and attempts to kill her, which leads to Mona falling off the cliff to her death.

Like I said earlier, I didn’t like Mona — not in the show, and even less in the books. I think that she was cruel, selfish, entitled, and spoiled character. She became even worse when we find out that, on the contrary to the show, she was just pretending to be friends with Hanna. Mona became “A” when she found Ali’s old diary at the St. Germain’s, and read all the secrets that Ali and the Liars were keeping. She saw “The Jenna Thing” happen, and wanted to get revenge on Jenna’s behalf since she was blinded from the accident. Mona also got some burns herself. Upon reading Ali’s diary, she was certain that Ian was guilty for Ali’s murder since Ali gave him an ultimatum: her or Melissa, and either way Melissa needs to know. Mona was not only “A” but also the Rosewood stalker.

“This summer I found a way to get you bitches back. — Mona”

I think that the way Mona got caught was ridiculous. How is it possible that a mastermind like “A” texted from her own phone to Hanna? And especially to the one who has the highest possibility on recognizing the number? Her death was deserved, and I appreciated the twist even more, because in my opinion, it’s a sign of a good writer to know when to let go of a character. And it was the perfect time for Mona, because like in the show, she didn’t serve any clear purpose after the A-reveal in season 2, and this would’ve inevitably happen in the books too.

At the end of the book, Ella finally contacts Aria when she sees the events on news, and invites her back home. She neglected her child for weeks, and now acts like nothing happened — Aria was literally homeless at one point, and neither of her parents or brother cared. An award for the most horrible family goes to… Ashley decides to accept a job offer and move to Singapore, which means that Hanna is going to be living with her father, Isabel, and Kate for now on. Ian gets arrested for Ali’s murder, and pleads not guilty. After Ian’s hearing, Emily sees a limo parked in front of the courthouse, and Ali’s lookalike in it.

Could Ali be alive after all this?

Even though the books on the first arc and the TV-show had very similar plotlines, the books still kept me interested. Killing off Toby and Mona were good decision, since it brought more variation to the story. The stakes were higher since it was actually possible to die in (this version of) Rosewood. I liked how Ezra took some responsibility of his and Aria’s relationship, and backed away. “A” was more visible in the books because they were addressing things to the reader, and kind of tainting them, keeping the suspense. I can’t wait to continue the series, and especially to see how it ends! After the TV-show ending, nothing can disappoint me anymore.



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Reviewing books I happen to stumble upon. Definitely just an amateur’s opinions. Enjoy!