Now sixteen, the twins have spent most of their lives being kept apart by the gold-digging grandmother from hell. Wild child Paisley was packed off to boarding school, and Beau was kept at home where his grandmother could control him. But when the twins discover that their father is out of jail and has tried to contact them, Paisley is determined to track him down. So the Wonder Twins head off to Las Vegas, armed with their grandmother's gun and a crazy plan. If they can get the media spotlight on them for a second time, their dad will know where to find them... right?
Every now and then, I get this overwhelming urge to read a particular book without exactly knowing why. It’s not a genre I usually favour, I don’t know much about the author, and I haven’t even heard that much about it. But for some reason, something about it just calls to me from the bookstore shelf: pick this one. So I do. And sometimes, I discover a total gem of a book this way. Like Pretty Bad Things. Total gem.
Where do I start? Pretty Bad Things is a novel that bucks the general YA trend. It’s not paranormal, it’s not an 'issues' book, and it doesn’t fit neatly into any popular category I can think of. It’s a rollercoaster ride. It’s Hansel and Gretel hit Vegas, Bonnie and Clyde style. It’s fresh, fierce and has a self-referential humour that gives the reader a conspiratorial nudge to let them know they’re sharing the joke. Take the scene where Paisley visits a bookstore to kill some time. She doesn’t find anything that takes her fancy, and ends up leaving because she’s just not that into vampires. Or take one of my favourite moments in the book, when Paisley responds to Beau shouting at her by telling him to take his caps lock off – because yes, Beau’s shouting is represented by the use of capital letters. Or take the one hundred other times this book made me smile, giggle or smirk. This is smart humour alright, and C. J. Skuse rocks it.
As this is a story about twins, Skuse has opted to split the narrative between unruly Paisley Jane Argent and her more cautious brother Beau. Fans of this technique may be interested to hear that Pretty Bad Things executes its two handed approach with style and finesse: both narrators have distinctive and engaging voices, and although I slightly favoured Paisley’s chapters I felt I got to know both of them equally well. As characters, they’re unsurprisingly complex and surprisingly loveable. They’ve had a screwed up childhood, being thrust into the media spotlight at a young age by their fame-greedy, botoxed grandmother and thinking their father abandoned them. To Paisley it makes perfect sense that if they get on the news again, they’ll be able to get their father’s attention. And since these twins have a major sugar addiction, what better way to start than holding up a doughnut store at gunpoint?
I can definitely see some more conservative parents or librarians getting a little edgy about Pretty Bad Things. Well, let 'em. Yes, a pair of teenagers wield a gun to rob fast food joints and candy stores. Yes, there’s a couple of scenes with content 'of an adult nature'. But this is young adult fiction, after all, and I think the readership can handle it. Plus, as the cover tells us: ‘get over it, nobody dies’. What I would say to readers is, if you like the sound of this one even a little bit, give it a try. It's a blast, and it's one of a kind. Pick this one.
Out: March 1st 2010, UK