Pretenders is a new series by Lisi Harrison, author of The Clique and Monster High series. This series is filled with a cast of unique characters all trying to make their mark in high school through whatever means possible.
The novel is made up of journal entries from five students who eventually become the “Phoenix Five,” a group of five students who are truly outstanding in school. One student is Lily, a former home schooled girl who just wants to be normal while obsessing over her neighbor Duffy. The boy-next-door is another student whose journal is featured in this book. Duffy is a basketball star struggling to make his mark as a freshman on varsity, especially after learning about his family’s financial woes. He’ll do whatever it takes to stay on the team, even if it means compromising his image for money. He seems to like Sheridan who can be a bit of a drama queen as she tries to find the right persona that everyone will love as she models herself after actors or characters she has seen elsewhere. All she wants to do is fit in and be popular, which is becoming even more difficult as her best friend’s summer friend shows up, proving to be everything Sheridan wants to be. It doesn’t help that her best friend now has a boyfriend, orphan Jagger whose parents are in jail for taking care of a bully. He’s now trying to survive on his own while steering clear of someone who might want revenge for his parent’s actions. Aside from the journals of Lily, Duffy, Sheridan, and Jagger, there is also Vanessa who is struggling to maintain her status as the best-of-the-best, which she feels will keep her parents from fighting. She’s willing to do anything, even possibly illegal activities to maintain her G.P.A. Before long, it seems as if all of the characters are in over their heads, each moment documented in their journals.
This novel does a good job of creating five unique characters, each one individual and fully developed. At times, however, they seem a bit like caricatures and cliches. Duffy is the jock, Lily is the sheltered home schooled kid, Vanessa is an overachiever obsessed with grades, Jagger is the mysterious loner, and Sheridan is the actress. Sheridan to me was the hardest to swallow. Her obsession with being someone else was a bit much to digest. It really went over the top when she wanted to channel “Massie Block from the straight-to-DVD movie The Clique” (59), which is a not too subtle nod to the author’s other series (there is also a Monster High reference later in the book). It read as a desperate move from the author to promote her other works. Plus it alienates people who don’t know her books. The other character Sheridan wants to channel are more pop-culture, but even the Gossip Girl reference will date the book. Her whole character was a little too much, so it was nice come the end when she starts to be more herself than someone else. Lily’s stalker tendencies also got to be a little much, although I’m sure a number of girls can relate to the obsessive quality of having a crush on a boy out of your league - even if Lily takes it to extremes. Jagger is the least developed character, but I think that all works towards him being the most mysterious. The characters become more likable as the book progresses and their true stories develop and grow conflicted. It all culminates to one night when everything gets out of control, and then the book ends in a cliffhanger.
For the most part I wasn’t impressed with the book - at least for three-fourths of the novel. It feels a bit like a watered down attempt at Pretty Little Liars with less extreme secrets. I wasn’t going to pick up the next book, but I might just to see how it all turns out - thanks to the cliffhanger at the end. All of the characters seem to have the best intentions, their desperation just got in the way of making smart choices. We shall see in book two how it all turns out.