She's Too Pretty to Burn | Wendy Heard
--Thank you to Henry Holt & Company, NetGalley, and Wendy Heard for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.--
Let me just start off my review by saying it deserves the five stars.
“She’s Too Pretty to Burn” is a 2020 YA psychological thriller written by Wendy Heard. It details the story of photographer Veronica and swimmer Mick, finding each other on the outskirts of a party they both find to be boring. They explore the city around them when Veronica finds out Mick doesn’t like her picture being taken and makes it her duty, so to speak, to find a place to take a “fake” photo of Mick so that she can feel better being in front of a camera. Turns out the roll of film that Veronica has in her camera does indeed still have a few shots left, and a few clicks on an empty train later, Mick is shoved into public eyes, for millions of people to see.
If only that were their only concern, but that’d also make for a less lackluster book. Enter Nico Varalica, the best friend of Veronica and golden boy in the eyes of Veronica’s mother. He takes Veronica and Mick to the underground San Diego art scene, where the artists hide behind bandanas in case they are invaded by the police. Nico’s anger with a certain Congressional official spurs on the execution of four installments of live art. His presence in her life takes Mick onto a journey she’ll never forget.
This was a bizarre novel. At the beginning, I couldn’t get into it and I wasn’t even sure which one was Mick and which one was Veronica. Then, I picked it back up again and I finished the forty chapters I had left from day until night. It is an absolutely addicting story and I didn’t expect myself to get wrapped up in it. Now I haven’t read The Picture of Dorian Gray yet, so I can’t make any comparisons to the novels, but I am certain that it is a modern retelling of the original story by Oscar Wilde.
I won’t be able to say enough about the novel as a whole without giving spoilers, but maybe it’s better that you find out on your own what really happens to Mick and Veronica. The novel takes you by the hand, gently at first, then yanks you into the abyss that Nico created for the sake of art.
I will spare you a piece of advice: make sure you’re in the right mindset to consume this novel, especially the last ten or fifteen chapters. It's branded to be a "sexy psychological thriller," and I think that's an okay description. The book emphasizes the psychological thriller, and the romance is the side piece and I definitely prefer it that way. Yes, it is essential to the plot that Mick and Veronica like each other, but it isn’t the entire plot. When I was finishing the book, it was about 1 in the morning. The last ten chapters shook my core and I was actually concerned whether or not I'd be able to sleep well after reading.
Moving onto the plotting, I think Wendy Heard is just amazing. I truly appreciate authors that take the time to plan and plot meticulous points that will eventually be the tipping point of a novel. This careful planning only makes the story richer and more clever. She placed events in the book that don’t make complete sense in the beginning, but by the end, you begin to see some of the puzzle pieces to the big picture. In the last chapter, it is left open enough that even the big picture is not fully revealed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wendy Heard has plans to create a sequel or spin-off novel, but it would also be good to end the story right there and keep readers questioning what happens next.
I enjoyed the characters almost as much as I loved the plot. Nico is a great antagonist, and I’ll be honest with you: I was pretty surprised to find out more and more about Nico’s identity as the novel progressed. To have the last chapter in Nico’s perspective is absolutely jarring and you have his thoughts as the last words in the novel. I also think it's crazy that we only finally see Nico's perspective when the story has progressed past the initial installations. He's the only one who knows what's really going on and at this point, we see that Nico is capable of anything.
That’s the best thing about this novel: there’s just more to discover, even when you think you know them. Mick and Veronica’s romantic relationship is put to the wayside when the antics with Nico start piling up, but it is evident that they don’t need to be kissing or hugging to be seen as caring for one another. This is the kind of friendship or relationship we should be striving for, even if they aren’t perfect. We should strive to be kind without asking for anything in return, and they saved each other from imminent doom.
I want to talk more about it but you all deserve to form your own opinions about the book. There’s one thing for certain: I think you’ll love it. I’m not a fan of thrillers; in fact, this is probably the first thriller I’ve read and I am head over heels for this book. World, you better be ready for the release of this book. I am certain this will take off to the stars.