‘Stunning’ (Pretty Little Liars #11) by Sara Shepard

*This review will contain spoilers!*


“Secrets can eat you alive. They break down your soul. It’s always better to have things out in the open.”

One thing I can definitely recommend – if you’re going to read the ‘Pretty Little Liars’ books, read them as close together as you can. It took me a year and a half to pick up ‘Stunning’ after reading tenth book ‘Ruthless’, and I’m still feeling beyond confused about the whole Real Ali/Their Ali switch over. I know I understood it at the time; Ali’s sister Courtney taking her place as their friend, blah blah blah, but after a year I have no idea which sister the girls are referring to whenever Ali gets brought up in a conversation.
Another recommendation – if you are deciding to pick up the ‘Pretty Little Liars’ books based off of the TV show, don’t. I am a huge advocate of reading books before watching adaptations, but the TV series is so much better than the books, being much more plausible and having a much smaller cast that consistently get revisited.
In ‘Stunning’, we follow Aria through a break-up and reunion with Noel Kahn, following her discovery that his father is a transvestite, Hanna attempting to rekindle her romance with Aria’s brother Mike by digging up dirt on his new girlfriend Colleen, Spencer attempting to find her place at an Eating Club at Princeton university, and Emily going frantic when encountering Gayle, the woman she nearly gave her baby to last summer.
I don’t know if it’s just because of how long it’s been since I’ve read the previous books, but the entire baby saga with Emily really confused me. I could remember some references to her being pregnant in a previous book, but with the sudden arrival of Gayle and the prologue recapping Emily’s decision to leave her baby on an adoptive families doorstep, I just felt as though I was missing something. Maybe one day I will force myself to re-read these books and I will properly understand what was going on there, but at the moment I am just feeling as though the timeline of these books isn’t really adding up, and it’s getting a bit ridiculous.
Other than the developments with Emily and her baby, this novel was exactly the same as all of the others. Hanna is desperate to get her hands on a boy, so goes to desperate measures to win him over. Aria discovers a secret, breaks up with her boyfriend to save him from the pain of knowledge, then cries a lot. And Spencer proves again and again that she is not Princeton material, by automatically inferring that a ‘potluck’ must mean putting pot in all of the food, despite her previous warnings from police over drug usage.
We still haven’t gotten any further information about Aria and Hanna’s escapades in Iceland, a secret which they have both been hiding for multiple books and keeps getting hinted towards, and we still haven’t gotten any more information about Hanna’s hit and run accident, which means either in the next book or in a few books time we will be tackling those two incidents. The repeated references to the Eco Cruise that the gang are gearing up to go on makes it obvious that the next book will be during or just following the events that transpire on that, and the predictability is physically hurting me by this point. Similarly, Spencer’s revelation in her final chapter that she might-actually-sort-of-embarrassingly-like the stoner kid Reefer from Princeton slaps you in the face with the blatant knowledge that their relationship is going to be developed upon over the course of the next book.
Then again, predictability is a theme that is overriding throughout this novel. The revelation of Gayle being Tabitha’s mother was obvious from the moment she mentioned a dead daughter, it was obvious that Gayle wasn’t A because whoever they assume is A always ends up getting murdered (Ian Thomas, Mona Vanderwaal, etc. etc. etc.) and if Hanna has been being stalked for the last year and a half (I really thought it would be longer than this, it’s dragged like hell) I’m extremely surprised she wouldn’t have predicted that A would have been getting evidence throughout her stalking of Colleen.
The only thing that really surprised me in this book was Emily’s reference to Chloe and Hanna’s reference to Sean, both exes from a couple of books ago. Generally a character will be in one of the books and will then disappear from the face of the planet, so it was nice to see some of them existing outside of the girls circle but also not being completely forgotten. The return of Isaac wasn’t surprising because of the focus upon Emily and the baby, but I kind of hope he’s in further books, because I really like him as a character and after the botched return of Ezra in ‘Ruthless’ none of the other boys are outside of the school environment.
I wish I could say good things about this book, because the first eight books of this series were actually really good and I super enjoyed them, but I really wish Sara Shepard had stopped while she was ahead. After ‘Stunning’ there are another five books, finishing with the recently released ‘Vicious’, the finale to the entire series, and I just don’t think the books are going to get any better from here on out.