She’s Too Pretty to Burn by Wendy Heard
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The summer is winding down in San Diego. Veronica is bored, caustically charismatic, and uninspired in her photography. Nico is insatiable, subversive, and obsessed with chaotic performance art. They’re artists first, best friends second. But that was before Mick. Delicate, lonely, magnetic Mick: the perfect subject, and Veronica’s dream girl. The days are long and hot―full of adventure―and soon they are falling in love. Falling so hard, they never imagine what comes next. One fire. Two murders. Three drowning bodies. One suspect . . . one stalker. This is a summer they won’t survive.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Veronica wants to go to art school, and Mick wants to swim her way out of her mother’s clutches.
Neither girl really has the future they want, not yet. But when they meet at a party through mutual friends, a spark lights between them, quickly fanning into roaring flame. Between art installations, Instagram revelations, and a roaring hot California summer, nothing is going to be the same, especially not the futures they’ve been dreaming of.
But to reach those new futures, first, they’re going to have to survive.
“It never occurred to me that fear could be fun.”
She’s Too Pretty to Burn manages to show the best and worst of its cast all at once. I’m delighted with the way it pits characters against one another in such realistic ways, especially when it comes to the interpretation and justification of art. The main characters are constantly challenging one another with their own ideas of what justifies art, especially art that involves reluctant or outright unwilling participants. Larger conflicts aside, these interpersonal conflicts are what carry the book along, and lend it the air of a story about to catch fire. You know from the start that nothing about this is healthy, but it won’t stop now that the flames have caught.
Especially interesting is the way She’s Too Pretty to Burn approaches fear without necessarily being a horror novel. It’s a thriller instead, and toys with the ideas of fear as some kind of grand motivation, fear and shame as art, fear as the seeds of destruction. And most importantly, it looks at the ways fear plays into power and agency, or the lack thereof. Mick in particular skirts the edges of her fears, always testing their boundaries, or letting them get the better of her.
Overall, fear drives this book, makes it sharp and messy and surprisingly realistic in the most unsettling ways.
And can you believe we’re actually seeing realistic teens?
This is probably the thing that impressed me the most, in the end. Sure, the circumstances end up being extraordinary, even deadly, but the characters? They feel so intensely real.
Mick is working multiple jobs and swimming on a club team around all that, desperate to get a swimming scholarship to some school far away from her controlling, cold mother. Without a scholarship, her escape will be cut short.
Veronica is the artsy daughter of a community college art professor, and of a man who ran off to live in Florida with the second, secret family he cared about more. Now, her photography is her everything, and she’s struggling to find the inspiration that will take her portfolio to the next level.
Nico, though enigmatic, is Veronica’s best friend, and an artist in his own right. Passionate about both art and resisting environmental destruction brought on by California government officials, he’s dealt with the foster system, poverty, and homelessness while dedicating himself to his work.
In some ways, these characters are extraordinary. I certainly wouldn’t expect to meet anyone just like them, especially not all at the same time. And yet their individual circumstances are incredibly real, and their tendency to seek out trouble and thrills is equally plausible.
They’re all kids. Kids who want fame and glory and justice, and they’re kids who don’t understand just how far their actions can reach.
She’s Too Pretty to Burn is out now!
If you’re fascinated by the idea of a sapphic thriller inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, and you want to see art and fear and power catch fire, this is a book you’ll want to pick up. It’s a great way to prepare yourself for the summer months ahead (they’ll be here in no time!), or just to dive into a good story during your downtime. I recommend it to anyone who likes complicated, messy characters, and to readers who don’t need a concrete resolution to be satisfied.
And, of course, to anyone who wants to see all the ways that art can begin to burn.
CW: gore, violence, underage drinking, animal death, smoking, child death, nudity, suicidal ideation