Pretty Little Dirty

Pretty Little Dirty

4.5 16
by Amanda Boyden

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Lisa sees the life of her gorgeous best friend Celeste as just about perfect: she has a gigantic house, two older sisters to coach her through the hazards of high school, and loving, lively parents. As Lisa's own home has long been a place devoid of joyful noise—her mother has shut herself off in her bedroom for years—Lisa joins the Diamond


Lisa sees the life of her gorgeous best friend Celeste as just about perfect: she has a gigantic house, two older sisters to coach her through the hazards of high school, and loving, lively parents. As Lisa's own home has long been a place devoid of joyful noise—her mother has shut herself off in her bedroom for years—Lisa joins the Diamond household, slipping into their routine of sit-down suppers and soaking in the delicious normalcy of Diamond family life. But what begins as the story of two young women living a charmed adolescence, one of mastering dance moves and the protocols of male-female interaction, soon swirls into an intoxicating novel of art, music, and self-destructive impulses as Lisa and Celeste dare each other ever onward.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A glorious, modern, satirical and funny reimagining of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. . . . Boyden is poetic with her prose, without being purple, and her short sentences read like stab wounds, puncturing opportunities for pretense." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Pretty Little Dirty takes a classic coming-of-age tale and turns it inside out, then gives it a few kicks in the head for good measure. Funny, sexy, inventively told, and scary as hell—a gutsy debut."
–Dani Shapiro, author of Family History

“Boyden cracks open the vulnerable world of the adolescent girl today. Racy, dangerous and very captivating, Pretty Little Dirty paints a hypnotic portrait of two girls spinning perilously out of control.”
–Colleen Curran, author of Whores on the Hill

"Amanda Boyden’s white-hot prose surprises and scorches the reader with her disarming candor about sexual hunger, friendship compromised by envy, and ambition lacking focus."
–Fredrick Barton, author of A House Divided, winner of The William Faulkner Prize

Publishers Weekly
Girlhood friends bolt from their innocence with a mixture of eagerness, ignorance and regret in this winning coming-of-age saga, told with candor and aptitude. In 1976, Lisa and Celeste move, from Chicago and New York respectively, to Kansas City, Mo., and enter sixth grade. Celeste is a blinding beauty; Lisa, who narrates, jumps readily into the welcome of Celeste's picture-perfect family, eager to efface her own dark home life. The girls mark every milestone together, from wilderness camp and first kisses to dances, drinks and loss of virginity. By the middle of high school, boys, and the real power a girl might wield over them, spawn ravenous sexual appetites in both. Their search for new summer conquests leads them to the edgy world of older art school students and '80s punk rock, each experiment with sex and drugs opening a new door onto another. Celeste and Lisa turn down paths marked by danger signs visible from a great distance, yet Lisa's voice is absolutely immediate. Shocking in its casual erotic frankness and enlightening in its drawing of shallow relationships, this novel gets the complexity of childhood friendships dead right, as well as their importance in shaping who one becomes. (Mar. 14) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A coming-of-age story that never quite comes into its own. In the avocado green world of the 1970s, sixth-graders Celeste and Lisa become inseparable, turning into the kind of best friends who think and act as a single person. Lisa, the narrator, comes from a family so dysfunctional that none of its members seem to notice that she has moved in with Celeste's glamorous, well-adjusted family. Lisa and Celeste are the smartest girls in school, prone to bouts of objectless yearning and ennui. None of their efforts to experience life more intensely last: By the end of high school, they have chosen and discarded boyfriends, learned French, become gourmet cooks and seduced artists much older than themselves. By the time they drop out of college, in the '80s, they are selling drugs at punk shows. Despite the ruin of their middle-class futures, Celeste and Lisa always have one another, yet the strength of their bond is as dangerous as it is comforting. A good deal of Lisa's narration involves a chilling account of how she consents to be mastered by her love for Celeste. This is an ambitious book, built on richly described scenes from Lisa and Celeste's aimless, episodic adventures. But it seems to have no sorting device; nothing is more or less important than anything else, so that even though each vignette is nuanced, the sheer number of them becomes somewhat repetitive, even tiresome. While Boyden's minor characters are animated and compelling, the central figures never come into focus; it's not quite clear what Lisa and Celeste see in one another. Page by page, an evocative collection of scenes, but taken as a whole, a frustratingly incomplete work.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt


I met Celeste in one of those lucky years of childhood you get before anybody significant dies-before Grandma goes, before your dad's secretary doesn't beat breast cancer, before the pharmacist gets into the car wreck. Celeste fit those years perfectly: me with my illusions of everyone living on into some hazy infinity of old age, Celeste with her surreal beauty, her otherworldly trust, her yellow eyes more gold than green, her skin, her lips, her-god!-her grace. You wouldn't believe how beautiful a sixth-grader could be until you saw her.

Having long known how babies were made-woman and man share love and bodies-I sometimes daydreamed about Celeste's parents procreating in a nonspecific way, making my friend before she existed. I had a lot of trouble imagining mine making me, my mother perpetually medicated by the time I was two, my father entirely asexual as all fathers are in eleven-year-old daughters' minds. But Celeste's parents had done the miraculous; they had made her, and I couldn't figure out the genetics of it all.

Celeste's mother, Mrs. Diamond, her face forever defiant (of what I had no idea), stood small and tight and brown as a nut. Mr. Diamond, a booming god of a man, not handsome but there in a sure, ever-present kind of way, danced instead of walked and encouraged you to eat beans and read the newspaper no matter how old you were. You couldn't ignore Celeste's father any more than you could ignore the fact that some wondrous girl actually lived up to the improbable name of Celeste Rose Diamond. No joke.

The Diamonds and my family both moved to Kansas City, Missouri, just days before the start of the new school year, hers from New York, mine from Chicago, both with the intent of placing their incredibly gifted children into the best private school the city had to offer. Celeste and I took our placement exams at the same time. We were coincidentally both young for our class, and there seemed to be some question as to whether or not we could live up to our parents' lauding. Fill in circles with pencil lead. I'd done it my entire young, non-death-filled life. Celeste, apparently, had not.

In a spare schoolroom expressly reserved for such test taking, I lifted my head from my booklet and answer sheet for the first time when the door latch clicked shut and the asthmatic proctor departed with a distinct fart. Celeste laughed out loud. I blushed.

"Hi," she said.

I glanced nervously at the closed door. I wanted to shush her. "Hi," I barely mouthed at the table. I hadn't really seen her yet.

"She doesn't care," Celeste said, throwing a hand up.

I drew the corner of my lower lip into my mouth and started to chew nervously. Studying my booklet in earnest, I shrugged and raised my eyebrows. I held my finger on my question.

"What's number twelve?" she asked.

Judas, I thought. Doughnuts. One short of unlucky. I was in test mode.

"Number twelve," she repeated.

I looked up then, and that's when I saw her, when I first truly saw Celeste, the sixth-grade goddess-to-be just sitting on the other side of the table, staring. I stared back. Years later, when I'd eaten one gram too many of hallucinogenic mushrooms and wasn't sure that what I saw made any sense, I'd blink and stare at a breathing wall in the same way. That way. Blink, blink.

"Hell-o," the beauty said.

"Um," I spurted. "Twelve is D. All of the above."

And so it began, with a perfect dozen of sorts. I had never cheated in my life, but from that first moment on I never denied Celeste an academic answer. Nor she me. I don't believe she thought that we were cheating. Somehow over the years I think she decided we were sharing. Just sharing information, maybe in the way she shared her beauty: "Take it; it's yours."

Celeste's own opinion of her physical appearance is exactly what saved her and what doomed her. Her beauty had no more to do with her inherently than a stray dog might. "Yeah," Celeste seemed to say, "Beauty likes me, but really, more, she just follows me around. She hangs out and we play fetch. Beauty drinks out of the park fountain." If her beauty left, certainly Celeste would have noticed, but her mourning would have been minimal. She had no sense of propriety about it. Astonishing, too, when you actually looked at her.

For all the years I knew Celeste her appearance changed as many times, but no matter the dye job, the ugly clothes, the awful choice of eye makeup, she remained undeniably gorgeous. I hated her for it, and I wanted to be her. If I had no other option-and ultimately I didn't-I would simply possess her. She would let me, finally, put a collar on her and call her mine.

I should begin at the beginning.

"D for twelve? Thanks." The girl smiled at me and went back to her circle filling. I glanced at her answer sheet, full of gaps like missing teeth, seemingly marked at random. She was far ahead of me but obviously not doing it the right way. I wanted to tell her that: "You're not doing it the right way." I didn't, though, of course, and thought about skipping ahead suddenly, an idea that had never occurred to me until that very moment. Ever. How had I not figured that out in eleven years of life? Look at how far ahead she was. Hurry up.

Not a minute later, the proctor still absent, this beautiful girl said, "I'm Celeste. What's forty-three?"

I looked at my answer sheet. I'd just colored in a B for thirty-nine.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"I don't know," I whispered, embarrassed.

The girl, Sellest-what kind of a name was that?-laughed again. "You don't know your name or the answer?"

I smiled back this time. She seemed very grown-up. I told her, "I'm only up to forty."

"What's your name?"


"Lisa What?"

"Lisa Smith."

"That's so nice and normal. What's your middle name?" I watched as she casually closed her test booklet like an adult closing a magazine in a hair salon. "Lisa What Smith?"


"Wow. Lisa Michelle Smith. How normal."

She seemed to mean it as a real compliment, but my name sounded from that moment onward as bland as cornflakes with no sugar. "Yeah," I said, my voice in my own ears tinny and false. The way her face presented itself, then, right there on the front of her head, was hard to explain. She looked like a live painting. She made you stop what you were doing and pay attention.

"I can't tell you how many times I've had to spell mine or correct teachers and stuff." Her voice dropped off at the end of her sentence, and I could have sworn her cheeks colored. I wanted her to spell her name for me because I was sure that I didn't understand it any better than any of those teachers did.

Instead I asked, "What's your middle name?" and that's when the proctor returned, the door swinging open into our fledgling conversation. I looked down, my finger still on question forty. I didn't look up. I heard Celeste open her test booklet and turn pages like that woman in the salon, flipping leisurely.

The proctor cleared her throat and sternly said, "Girls."

"Hi," Celeste answered.

I continued on with my test taking but could not help glancing at the girl across the table from me more often than I should have. Certainly the proctor suspected bad behavior. But I couldn't catch Celeste's eye again.

We found out later that we'd both ended up in the ninety-ninth percentile. They were easy tests back at the start of the sixth grade.

I learned how to spell Celeste's name and how to inform other curious students as to its source, how Celeste's parents met of all places at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the most romantic place imaginable. How Celeste was French for "heavenly," for "of the stars." In 1976, few kids our age had unusual first names in Kansas City. In Cowtown. The Dweezils and Moon Units were out there on the West Coast. Still, Celeste's name had a touch of the exotic and more than some glitter about it, and the hometown kids, both the mean ones and the not-so-mean, took a liking to Celeste right from the start. As her sidekick, I fit in well enough under the easy, wide protection of my friend's quick popularity. I wasn't ugly. On the contrary, I was cute and bright, quiet but witty, a fast runner and good dodgeball player. Celeste and I were lean and strong alike. We were both still flat-chested. Without even looking, though, you knew we would always be different.

Celeste had two older sisters in high school already. Being newcomers, too, Diana and Rachel commanded more than their fair share of male attention. Within a month of moving to Kansas City, both of the older Diamond daughters had landed steady boyfriends and would remain regularly attached to some guy or another for the rest of their stays before heading off to equally good colleges.

As it happened, Diana and Rachel helped prepare Celeste and me for our first truly tactile encounters with the opposite sex, and they are forever linked in my mind to Celeste's and my sixth-grade wilderness camp experience. Besides telling us how not to gross out when kissing for real, these wise older girls provided us with ammunition of the non-garden variety to use with our female classmates when need be. They prepped us well, gave us lots of good stuff. Gave me lots of important information.

My mom had become a ghost of a mother by the time my family moved to Kansas City. I didn't even really need her permission to go to camp-only Dad's-but she signed her name in her neat script anyway, right beneath his. Experts today might know better what happened to my mother after she gave birth to me and my younger brother just ten months later. But back then, in the waning years of the seventies' sexual and feminist revolution, nobody really knew what her deal was. I truly believe that delivering the two of us destroyed something in my mother. Postpartum depression in the next-to-last degree, just this side of suicide. My mother had no bravery in her, or she would have killed herself at some point in my early life, and then I would have trouble remembering her at all. As it is, she simply haunts my past, a filmy figure behind my father, behind Celeste, even behind those two older sisters, who helped my best friend and me through the gauntlet of growing up female. And so armed with crazy, nearly unbelievable information about male and female bodies, about reproductive systems and mating rituals, Celeste and I departed for camp.

John McFarland flirted his ass off, you could say. No, really. For some reason mooning out bus windows would soon be de rigueur in 1976 in Missouri, and John McFarland proved himself a trendsetter. Celeste and I sat next to each other in a seat near the middle of the bus. My twelfth birthday was going to fall during the week at wilderness camp, and I remember we talked about losing our digit repetition-we would have to wait till we turned twenty-two before our digits repeated again. Celeste said she would find a way to have a cake for me. I wanted to believe her, as she truly seemed to believe herself.

Mainly I just looked forward to going for days without washing my hair. And I couldn't wait to rappel. We hunkered down and propped our knees up on the black vinyl back of the seat in front of us. I picked at my chipping nail polish. A round of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" had started earlier.

"What flavor?" Celeste asked loudly over the song, only in its twenties.

"I don't care," I said.

"Yes, you do. What's your favorite?"

I liked almost all cake. I'd had little of it, as my mom never baked, and Dad didn't eat sweets. He said they rotted the brain. "I don't know. Carrot ca-"

Suddenly a loud whoop went up in the bus a few seats behind us, and we craned our necks around. John McFarland stood on his seat dancing, lifting his shirt. Next to John, Peter Alpert clapped and whistled. My first reaction was to look to the front of the bus, where the driver was already frowning, his reflection a pinched face in the large flip-down rearview mirror. The gym teacher, Mr. Rahdart, sat behind the driver and swiveled into the aisle, standing. Celeste started yelling beside me, and I turned just in time to see John McFarland pull down his pants and underwear and stick his bare butt out the open window.

Cruising in the fast lane of a four-lane highway headed straight into the heart of the Ozarks, the bus overtook two sedans, both of which honked at the sight of John's white-cheeked greeting. Probably as a reaction to better hide the little jerk of a kid, the bus driver moved into the slow lane. John McFarland bounced and made kissy-mouth faces, winking directly at Celeste. All of us screamed and laughed. How daring! What a weird thing to do! John was the first in our class to drop trou out the window of a moving vehicle, and none of us could even believe what he was doing as he did it. How could he think-why would he think-to do something like that? Continuing to stare in his mirror, the driver drifted right. I watched as a large brown object loomed on the side of the road ahead, a half-crumpled thing that listed into the road like a drunk. I should have called out, but I didn't. And then, just like that, a sign for the Pomme de Terre campgrounds sliced a chunk off John McFarland's ass the size of a twice-baked potato half.

Mr. Rahdart reached John McFarland a split second late, yanking the boy out of the window right after the big warbling clunk of the metal sign. Peter Alpert was the first to react in a way that didn't mean hilarious, in a way that wasn't funny at all. "Jesus Christ, son!" the gym teacher yelled as Peter Alpert scrambled backward off the seat and onto the bus floor. When Mr. Rahdart held up his bloody hands, all the rest of us quit laughing and closed in, sixth-grade hyenas to injured prey.

John McFarland, his face now a slack-jawed mask, slumped as if to sit, but Mr. Rahdart held him up under his armpits. "No! No, no, son, no!"

The bus slowed, gravel pinging on the undercarriage.

"Oh, my god," Peter Alpert said, eyes wide as a doe's. I couldn't stop staring at John McFarland's penis and his testicles, soft-surfaced as fresh apricots, left hanging above his lowered underpants. As I stared, Mr. Rahdart seemed to notice, too, and awkwardly pulled on the waistband of John's underwear. John tugged too, helping the gym teacher, and then cried out like a girl as the backside of his pants scraped his bloodied butt.

Meet the Author

Born in Northern Minnesota, Amanda Boyden grew up, the eldest of three daughters, in Chicago and St. Louis. Currently she teaches in the English department of the University of New Orleans. Previous positions include elderly companion, artist’s model, gutter cleaner, dishwasher, science lab assistant, cancan dancer, tutor, stuntwoman, and bit part actress. Until recently, Amanda worked as a contortionist and professional trapeze artist. She proudly lists hanging high over the heads of Galactic and 311 in her life accomplishments.

She is married to Canadian author Joseph Boyden. Pretty Little Dirty is her first novel.

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Pretty Little Dirty 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book from cover to cover in days and loved it. I wish this author would write more books or that there would be more books like this. Very vivid and descriptive and a very easy read. The story was so real and believable I can't believe it isn't. If you want to re live your early teen years and adolescence read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel took you through the hardships of being in high school and college. I greatly enjoyed the point of view the author created. It read as if you were talking to a friend, and you never felt left out of an event in the characteres lives. I found it to be a strong, beautiful novel that captures all of the choices I am going through in high school. The characters felt like close friends and you felt every pain and upset they went through. I strongly encourage you to read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I kind of stumbled into this book by searching for another book with pretty in its title. Lets just say that was the best stumble I've ever taken. This book is gorgeous! And funny, and edgy, and shocking. And heartbreaking. I'm going to be thinking of it for a really long time to come. Why hasn't the author written more books? She is an amazing writer! Every page had me completely dissolved into the main character. I absolutely love this book and recommend it to everyone.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Each word seems to be perfectly places, as if well thought about. The characters made me fall in love, and the theme it was portryaing made absolute, beautiful sense. It is definitely something I would recommend to anyone. This author should write more and more, because I would be dedicated forever to her. This is my favorite novel, I've decided.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Two young women grow up together and learn what is good and what is evil in mid-America in the 80s. The novel develops complexity as it progresses until it makes a powerful statement about the nature of art and its relation to life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It took me right back to Junior high, high school and college. it makes me wish I was still so young with so much future ahead of me and nothing to think about but boys! I was just like these girls, loved the sex in this book. wish I could find another book like this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just happened to pick up this book out of boredom while staying at a relative's... my cousin had been reading it so I decided to have a look. I couldn't put it down. It's been maybe a year or two since I've read it.. but the characters are so vivid, and it's easy to get completely wrapped up into their lives. The way the author weaves the tale of the girls growing up together, really makes you feel like you haven't missed a beat. This book definitely leaves you wanting more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm 16 and I hate reading. I think it's a waste of time yada yada...until i read this book. The review makes it seem cheesey but it's really a fantastic book. I really understood what she as saying and I felt like I was her. I've never loved a book as much as I've loved this book. That's all i have to say. It's exciting compelling and just fun.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started reading the book because i couldnt find the one i wanted.... i thought it would be an ok read. But after the second chapter i became captivated. Everything is just amazing about it. I cant say more then that i absolutly loved it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Im a freshman in college and just read this book.. I LOVED IT! It's a great book about two girls growing up together. It's amazing.