Pretty Little Liars tells the story of Aria, Spencer, Emily, and Hanna, four girls whose best friend, Alison, disappears one night during a slumber party. After their devastating loss the four girls drift apart, leading their own separate lives. Aria spends two years abroad in Iceland, Spencer immerses herself in her academic and extracurricular actives, Emily focuses on swimming, and Hanna loses weight and becomes the new "it" girl at their posh private school, Rosewood Day. Three years later, each of them begin receiving ominous text messages from someone named A, who threatens to expose their secrets—secrets only Alison knows.
The best thing about this book is the premise. In the hands of a good writer, this could have been an engaging read, but there is not one aspect of the story, other than the mystery, that was handled well. The characters are vapid and shallow, and an extraordinary amount of time is spent describing their appearance, in particular their designer clothing. The messages are appallingly unhealthy. One of the main romances is between Aria and her English teacher, which is presented as "true love" rather than an inappropriate affair between a young girl and a much older man, who as her teacher holds a lot of power over her. There are also implied messages about the importance of being thin, wealthy, and wearing designer labels.
The writing was very clunky and unpolished. The dialogue was unrealistic, particularly when it came to the parents. There was an excessive use of dialogue tags and an excessive use of words other than "said." Characters "squeaked," "whispered," "spat," "murmured," and "threw in" all on one page, in the course of one conversation. While I'm hardly a stickler for the "only use said" rule, I found it very distracting here. Instead of relying on the dialogue itself to show how the characters are speaking, the dialogue tags tell us how the lines are being delivered. Shepard also tends to abuse adverbs throughout the text. Most times they were unnecessary, and sometimes they were downright awkward. In one example, a boy "messily dribbled" beer down his chin. The word "messily" is unneeded because it's implied by the situation.
I won't be reading on in the series, although I'm mildly interested to know who A is. The mystery is intriguing, but I don't care what happens to any of the characters, and I can't suffer through glorified student/teacher relationships, or poor writing to satisfy my curiosity. Those who enjoyed the Gossip Girl series will probably enjoy this one.