4 reviews

Pretty Little Things
by Jilliane Hoffman

Published: 2010-09-07
Hardcover : 368 pages
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When thirteen-year-old Lainey Emerson fails to come home from a night out with friends, her disappearance is dismissed by the Coral Springs PD as just another disillusioned South Florida teen running away from suburban drama and an unhappy home life. But FDLE Special Agent Bobby Dees is not quite ...
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When thirteen-year-old Lainey Emerson fails to come home from a night out with friends, her disappearance is dismissed by the Coral Springs PD as just another disillusioned South Florida teen running away from suburban drama and an unhappy home life. But FDLE Special Agent Bobby Dees is not quite so sure. Bobby suspects she may be the victim of an online predator. And he fears she may not be the only one. Haunted by the still-unsolved disappearance of his own teenage daughter, Bobby will find himself pulled into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the most prolific killer he’s ever encountered. But will he be able to save Lainey and the others before it’s too late?

Editorial Review

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A small, portly man in a white suit, deep purple shirt, and patent
slip-ons ran around the stage with a microphone in hand, reaching
out to touch any one of the hundreds of sweaty palms that waved
back and forth before him in the Unity Tree of Everlasting Evangelical
Life church auditorium. He slicked back a thick band of gelled
gray hair that had broken form and swooped down across his forehead
and over his eyes. The amazing camera work practically let you
count the fine lines in the preacher’s full face, the beads of perspiration
rolling off his red cheeks and down through layers of neck fat.
“Now when Moses went to meet the Israelites after their victory
over the Midianites,” the preacher boomed as he worked the stage
from one end to the other, “he had all the princes and the priest,
Eleazar, with him. And he sees what? What does he see that the Bible
tells us made Moses so incredibly angry? He sees women!” The
crowd, which looked to be made up of mostly females, booed loudly.
Seated in front of the living room TV in his worn, comfortable
La-Z-Boy, the man nodded along with the church audience, watching
the drama unfold on his television screen as though he had not
already seen this video a hundred times before.
“The Israelites have saved the women!” the preacher boomed. “And
Moses, well, he says, ‘So you’ve spared all the women? Why? Why,
when they’re the very ones who have caused a plague to strike the
Lord’s people! Why did you spare them?’”
Somewhere in the church audience, a female yelled, “Because they
were men!”
The preacher laughed. “Yes! Because they were men. And because
they were men, they were weak to the ways of women! To the smell of
a woman and the taste of a woman and the feel of a woman!”
The man wiped his sweaty palm on the recliner’s worn armrest,
nodding enthusiastically at the preacher’s words.
“They were weak!” the preacher continued. “And so these weak
men spared these vile women who had wreaked havoc on their tribe.
But Moses is not just upset, ladies and gentlemen. He doesn’t just say,
‘That was a stupid thing to do!’ and leave it at that. No. Moses knows
what will happen now that these vile women have been saved. Their
delicious scent and their warm skin and their soft curves will soon
sway their captors. Wickedness takes on many forms, folks. Many
The preacher summoned a young woman in the church audience
then by pointing at her. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen
or eighteen. “Come on, child, come on up here.” Encouraged by her
parents and the enthusiastic crowd, the girl hesitantly climbed on
stage. “Look at how beautiful she is,” the preacher said, walking around
the slight figure with his arms outstretched, as if she were an animal
on a pedestal in the circus and he was the ringmaster introducing her
to them. He sniffed exaggeratedly at her and smiled. “She smells good.
She sure looks good. She doesn’t seem evil. What man would not be
tempted?” He turned back to the crowd. “Like many of us in our
everyday lives, Moses must make a difficult decision. A terrible decision.
One that many will find objectionable, but yet Moses—well,
Moses knows it is necessary. A difficult choice, but a necessary one.”
A pregnant hush fell over the crowd. “What does he tell them?” the
preacher asked his flock, staring as he did right into the eye of the
camera, speaking to the thousands of lost sheep all across the country
who waited on his every word. “What? He tells them—and this is
right out of the Holy Bible, folks—he tells them, ‘Slay, therefore, every
male child and every woman who has had intercourse with a man.
But you may spare and keep for yourselves all girls who had no intercourse
with a man.’ What does that mean, folks? ‘Only the young girls
who are virgins may live,’ Moses says. ‘Only the virgins can live
amongst your people. Only the virgins, those who are pure in thought
and deed, can be saved.’ Why? Because they are pure. They have not
been corrupted.” He looked back at the young girl on stage and bellowed,
“Tell us, young lady, are you a virgin? Are you pure in thought
and deed? God is watching you! Remember that! We are watching
you! Are you pure in both thought and deed?”
The girl nodded as tears ran down her cheeks. She smiled at the
preacher and then out at her parents. “Yes,” she answered. “I am pure.”
The crowd went wild.
The man wiped his palm again on the easy chair. The preacher
certainly was mesmerizing. He had the crowd eating out of his hand.
Had the young virgin not been so pure, he would have had no problem
rousing the masses to stone her, if that was what he so wished.
It was inspiring.
The man pressed rewind on his remote, and while the tape noisily
chortled in the VCR, he unfolded the brown canvas bag on his lap.
He ran his fingers over the soft brush tips inside, finally selecting a
flat bristle and his dull painting knife. He picked up his artist’s palette
from the side table and slowly mixed his carefully selected paints.
The heavy scent of the oils was intoxicating. The tape started again
from the beginning. As the preacher took to his stage, the people
hailed him as though he were a general coming back from war. As if
he were the Messiah himself.
The man listened to the sermon one last time as he worked the final
touches on his latest piece, finding the raw energy of the preacher’s
words to be as soothing and stimulating as a surgeon might find listening
to classical music in the OR.
“Like many of us in our everyday lives, Moses must make a difficult
decision. A terrible decision. One that many will find objectionable, but
yet Moses—well, Moses knows it is necessary. A difficult choice, but a
necessary one. What does he tell them? What?”
When he was done, the man turned from his work and put his
brush into the turpentine mixture to soak. Next to the TV was his
computer. He got up from the La-Z-Boy and moved to the swivel
desk chair. His hands were shaking just a little as he rubbed a stubbly
five o’clock shadow with fingers that were still wet with paint. On the
screen before him, the pretty girl sat on her pink bed in her pink bedroom,
surrounded by movie stars, pirates, and vampires, chatting on
the phone while she tried to paint her toenails.
“He tells them, ‘Slay, therefore, every male child and every woman
who has had intercourse with a man.’”
The man licked his lips and swallowed hard. For just a second he
felt ashamed, wondering why it was he thought the things he
thought. But it was too late to get a conscience. Neither his thoughts
nor his deeds were pure. His soul was already damned.
“‘But you may spare and keep for yourselves all girls who had no
intercourse with a man.’”
He typed something on the computer and hit “send,” then watched
as the pretty girl hopped off the bed and hurried with a smile across
the room to her computer.
It was a simple question, but it had certainly gotten her attention,
hadn’t it?
It always did.
r u online?

Chapter 1
Lainey Emerson nibbled on the ragged nub of Krazy Glue and broken
press-on nail that was still stuck to her thumb and stared hard at
the computer. With her free hand on the mouse, she guided the arrow
across the screen. Her palms were melting, and her heart was
beating so hard and so fast it felt as if it was gonna push right out of
her chest. The thousands of butterflies trapped in the pit of her stomach
furiously fluttered their wings as the arrow approached the
“send” box. All she had to do was hit the button. Just hit the button
and send the stupid two-sentence email that’d literally taken her—
she looked at the clock in the bottom right corner of the screen and
grimaced—hours to word just right. And still she hesitated, rolling
the mouse back and forth with sweaty fingers.
You should never put anything in writing or in pictures that you
wouldn’t want to see or read on the front page of the New York Times,
The ominous words sounded so loud and so clear in her head,
Lainey could swear she smelled the stink of cigarettes on her mom’s
breath as she preached them. She pushed back from her desk, shook the
dire “Don’t learn things the hard way like me!” Parental Advisory Warning
out of her brain, and looked around her now almost-dark bedroom.
Long shadows blacked out the faces on the dozen or so movie posters
that covered her walls. Outside, all that remained of the late afternoon
sun as it sunk into the Everglades were a couple of faint orange ribbons.
5:42? Was it really that late? She suddenly heard the quiet and
realized the boisterous shouts from the roller-hockey game that’d been
playing in the street all afternoon had stopped—the players and cheer -
leaders all long gone, home to dinner and homework. Two things
Lainey hadn’t even started yet. And Bradley? She hadn’t heard from
her little brother in a while, either. A long while, now that she thought
about it. She chewed the inside of her lip. Usually a good thing, but so
not a good thing now that her mom was gonna be home soon . . .
The front door opened and Lainey prayed it wasn’t her mother. It
closed with a slam. Thirty seconds later gunfire erupted in the living
room as Brad resumed blowing away cops on Grand Theft Auto, the
dumb video game that he had to play at full blast just to annoy her.
Anger quickly displaced relief and she regretted wasting a good
prayer on her brother’s obnoxious well-being. At least he was home
and she hadn’t lost him. She raised the volume on her Good Charlotte
CD to drown out the screams and machine-gun fire and turned
her attention back to the computer. She so needed to stay in the moment
or she’d never be able to do this.
The picture on the screen glowed in the dark room, waiting impatiently
to be shot off into cyberspace. A pretty girl she barely recognized,
with sleek dark hair and smoky eyes, smiled provocatively
back at her. A pretty girl Lainey still sheepishly thought looked nothing
like her. Tight jeans and a midriff-baring T-shirt showed off a
slim but curvy shape. Full, glossy red lips matched equally glossy,
long red fingernails, which were posed confidently on her hips, like
an America’s Next Top Model contestant—her friend Molly’s idea.
Normally Lainey didn’t like how she looked in any picture, but, then
again, normally she didn’t look anything like she did in this picture.
Normally her waist-length unruly chestnut hair was pulled back in a
low ponytail or put up in a clip, her boring brown eyes hidden behind
wire-rimmed glasses. Normally she didn’t wear any makeup or
jewelry or high heels or long red fingernails. Not because she didn’t
want to, but because she wasn’t allowed.
But besides looking a little older than she was—and a little, well,
sexy—Lainey rationalized that the picture wasn’t that bad that she
wouldn’t want to see it in the newspaper. Some MySpace photos were
a hell of a lot worse than this. It wasn’t like she was naked or doing
porn or anything. The most you could see besides her stomach and
the fake belly-button ring was the pink outline of the padded bra
she’d stolen from her older sister, Liza, under the white T-shirt that
she’d also stolen from Liza. Maybe the jeans were kinda low and the
shirt kinda tight, but . . .
Lainey shook the creeping, noisy doubts out of her head. She’d already
taken the picture. She’d already broken the rule. And the truth
was, she looked pretty hot, if she did say so herself. The real worry at
this point was, what would Zach think when he saw it?
Zach. ElCapitan. Just the thought of him made Lainey’s hands
sweat. She looked at the picture taped to the side of the computer
screen. Blond hair, bright blue eyes, the quirkiest, sweetest smile, and
just the cutest shadow of face gruff. And muscles . . . wow! She could see
them even through his Hollister T-shirt. Nobody she knew in seventh
grade had even the hope of either a muscle or a hair on their scrawny
bodies. Since she’d met Zach a few weeks ago in a Yahoo chat room for
the new Zombieland movie, Lainey had been forming a mental picture
of what he might look like. This fabulous, funny guy who liked the
same movies—even the really bad ones—listened to the same music,
hated the same subjects, distrusted the same type of plastic people she
did, had the same problems with his own parents. It would be too much
to ask for him to be anything more than a geek with bad acne and even
worse hair and an uncle who’d pulled strings to get him on the varsity
football team. But then last Friday Zach had finally sent her a picture,
and the very first thing she’d thought was, “Oh my God, this guy could
model for Abercrombie & Fitch!” He was that amazingly good-looking.
And what was even more amazing was that this totally cool, captain of
the football team with model looks liked her. That’s when she knew
reciprocating with a snapshot of her own boring self just wasn’t gonna
happen, especially since that self was still three years away from the sixteen
she’d told him she was. A small fib that would definitely matter to a
senior in high school being scouted by colleges. She knew he’d never be
into that, and their friendship—or whatever it was that was happening
between them—would be over before she could hit the reply button to
his Dear Jane email. If he even bothered to send her one.
She nibbled off the last chunk of nail and spat it in the garbage.
The entire fake set had taken her and her best friend, Molly, hours to
put on last Saturday for the “photo shoot,” and only a few short seconds
to rip off this morning in gym class. The nails were her favorite.
Long and pointy and oh-so red. More than the shoes or makeup or
wearing Liza’s clothes, it was those nails that had made her feel so . . .
glamorous. So grown-up. She loved tinking them on glasses and
rolling them impatiently on tables. It’d taken her the whole weekend
to figure out just how to pick up a piece of paper! And now, like Cinderella’s
ball gown and crystal coach, they were just a memory. At
least Cindy got to keep a glass slipper as a memento of her time as a
princess. All Lainey got was a chunk of chewed acrylic.
And, of course, a picture.
She stared at herself on the screen. That was it. If she thought
about it any more she’d never do it. She closed her eyes, said a prayer,
and clicked the mouse. A little envelope zipped across the monitor.
Your message is on its way!
The cell phone in her back pocket buzzed and Gwen Stefani
belted out “The Sweet Escape.” Molly. She blew out a long held
breath. “Hey, M!”
“Did you send it?” an excited voice asked.
Lainey sighed and flopped back on her bed. “Finally, yeah.”
“I haven’t heard back yet. I just sent it, like, two seconds ago.”
Molly Brosnan had been Lainey’s best friend since way back in
kindergarten, and everyone—teachers, coaches, friends, parents—
everyone always said, if the two of them looked even a little bit alike,
they’d be identical twins. That’s how close they were. Or used to be,
anyway. It was no coincidence Molly had called at almost the precise
moment Lainey had clicked “send.” Things like that happened all
the time—Molly thinking what she was thinking and vice versa.
That’s what made this year suck so much. No matter what her mom
said, different schools meant different lives. She picked the fuzz off
her alien-green shag pillow. “I’m so nervous, M.”
“What took you so long to send it?”
“I’m a chicken.”
“You have to call me the second you hear from him, Lainey.”
“I will, I will. What do you think he’s gonna think?”
“I already told you. You look hot. I mean it. He’s gonna love it.”
“You don’t think I look fat?”
“I wish I looked that dumb.”
Lainey sat up and stared at the computer across the room. “If I don’t
hear back from him soon, M, I’m gonna freak! This waiting sucks.”
The bedroom doorknob suddenly began to violently jangle back
and forth. “Lainey!”
“Get lost, Brad! I mean it,” Lainey yelled. “Get out of my room!”
“You’re not allowed to close the door! Or lock it! Mom says!”
“G’head and tell Mom, you tattle-tale! Lotta good it’s gonna do
you, ’cause she’s NOT HERE! And I can’t wait till I tell her about you
playing that video game you’re not supposed to play till after you’ve
done your homework!” she added as she fell back down hard on the
“Is that The Brat?” Molly asked. “What’s he doing in your room?”
“He’s not. He’s just outside the door. I can hear him breathing heavy
through the crack. I wish I had some bug spray.” Lainey squeezed her
eyes shut. “I hate him sometimes, M. I swear it.” Molly had a little
brother, too, but hers was nice. Most of the time.
“What’d he do now?”
“He went through my books again. He drew mustaches on all of
my Seventeen magazines and ruined them. Totally ruined them. He’s
such an asshole.”
“Did you tell your mom?”
“Like that’ll do any good. She probably gave him the magazines and
the marker ’cause the poor baby was bored.” She sat up and reached for
the bottle of nail polish on the cardboard box that was supposed to be
a nightstand. She shook it and started to paint her toes.
“You should tell her,” Molly sniffed. “He shouldn’t be able to go
into your stuff.”
“She’s not home. She’s still at work.”
“What about Todd?”
Todd was her stepdad and an entirely different story. If her mom
babied Bradley, Todd definitely played favorites, which made sense,
since Bradley was, after all, his kid and she wasn’t and that was life.
“He’s not home yet, either, thank God. I’m babysitting.” Lainey looked
over at the door with a frown. “Not that he listens to me.”
“Babysitting? Oooh. That means you’re in charge. My mom told
Sean that corporal punishment is legal in Florida, which means she
can use her hairbrush on his ass and you can beat Bradley’s with a
belt.” They both laughed.
“If the prince gets a single bruise on his milky-white butt cheeks,
I’ll be grounded till high school. Nice idea, but I’m just gonna IGNORE
HIM while he breathes under my FREAKIN’ DOOR like a
The computer melodically blurped. An incoming IM.
Lainey looked over at the computer, her heart suddenly racing
once again. She knew right away who it was.
ElCapitan says: r u online?
“Oh my God, M!” she whispered into the phone. “He just IM’d
me. What do I do?”
Molly laughed. “Tell him hello!”
“Yeah, but that means he must’ve got the email.”
“No, it doesn’t. Maybe he’s IMing you from his phone. You don’t
know he’s seen the picture.”
Lainey stood up and paced the room. “He wants to know if I’m
“Just say hi, you dork. Do it. Do it now.”
“OK, OK . . . ” Hitting letters on the computer had never taken so
much darn energy before. It felt like someone had poured lead into
the tips of her shaking fingers.
LainBrain says: hi
Deep breath. Stay calm. “OK, M. I did it.”
The computer blurped again.
ElCapitan says: just got home. practice ended late. coach
still pissed over last weeks game
“What? What’d he say?” Molly whined. “Tell me!”
“Nothing. He said he just got home from football practice. Maybe
you’re right. Maybe he didn’t get it?” She paused for a second. “Or
maybe he got it and he hates it! M!”
ElCapitan says: got ur mess
Lainey held her breath.
“What’d he say? Lainey!”
ElCapitan says: nice pic ☺
Lainey let the air out all at once, as if someone had popped her
screaming lungs with a pin. “He said nice pic, M! You think that’s
good?” Even asking the question, she couldn’t help but grin.
“You’re a moron. I told you you looked hot. You better not let your
mom see that picture. She’ll freakin’ flip. Speaking of flipping moms,
mine’s downstairs having a breakdown. I gotta go eat. Say hi to Bradley
Brat for me.” She laughed. “Not.”
“I’ll call you later.” Lainey hung up the phone and stared at the
words on the screen. She’d never felt this good before in her whole
entire life. She wanted to scream. Then, another sentence appeared
with a blurp.
ElCapitan says: even better than i pictured, and i have a
great imagination . . .
ElCapitan says: want 2 c even more of u
Lainey felt her cheeks light up as she looked around the bedroom.
There was, of course, no one there but her, but she still felt strangely
embarrassed. What should she say to that? What would Liza say? Did
he mean that the way she thought he meant that?
The door to the garage opened with a loud creak. “Brad? Elaine?
Hello? Where is everyone? Why is this video game on?” The sound of
her mom’s irritated voice echoed through the house, along with the
click-clacking of her high heels on the ceramic tiles. She heard Bradley
run down the hall and into his room. Coward. Lainey mouthed the
next words out of her mother’s mouth.
“I’m in my room!”
“Get off that computer. Did you even start dinner?”
And it was back from the ball once again. Back to reality.
LainBrain says: GTG. P911
IM quick-speak for “Got to go—a parent is coming.”
ElCapitan says: who?
LainBrain says: mom
ElCapitan says: damn! and we were just about 2 get on my
favorite subject . . .
The funny, uncomfortable feeling was back, and she pushed it
aside. Why was she always such a baby? She had to get over that.
ElCapitan says: thought she worked late mondays
ElCapitan says: or is that fridays?
LainBrain says: fridays and every other monday. sorry about
coach 
“Elaine! Did you hear me? Off that friggin’ computer now!”
LainBrain says: . shes pissed.
LTL meant “let’s talk later.” Lainey opened up her social studies
book to make it look like she’d been studying and crumpled a few
pieces of notebook paper for effect, just in case her mom headed this
way. Now it was time to boil hot dogs and listen to twenty minutes of
shit as to why it was irresponsible of her to allow the aspiring psycho
in residence to gun down cops and steal cars for two hours on the
video game that his own dad had given him for Christmas. “Practice
for the real world,” Lainey wanted to say when the interrogation finally
got started. “Let’s face it, Mom, Brad’s career options are gonna
be limited.” But that remark would probably get her smacked.
Just as she opened the door, the computer blurped again. She ran
back over to the desk and stared at the words on the screen. She
blushed, wrapping her arms absently around her chest.
ElCapitan says: FYI. pinks definitely your color ☺
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Do you have MySpace or Facebook accounts? Do your children? How do you think the role of social media networks in PRETTY LITTLE THINGS will affect your attitude toward social media in your day-to-day life?

2. Jilliane Hoffman creates some pretty vile characters, including the murderer who is dubbed “Picasso” by law enforcement officials. Did you find him believable? What about the book’s ultimate hero, Bobby Dees?

3. How do you think Hoffman’s career in law affects the detail and plot structure of her books. Did you think about her legal background when you were reading the story?

4. Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way? Did this lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your life you might not have thought about before?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from author Jilliane Hoffman:

My oldest daughter was 11 years old and in the fourth grade when a classmate of hers was approached on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) by a sexual predator who went by the screen name of “rooster69” and claimed he was a 16 year-old boy. A secret online relationship developed, ultimately culminating in the little girl sharing the AIM addresses of her girlfriends with her newfound AIM buddy. It wasn’t until this “boy” then asked one of the little girls to send him nude pictures of herself that my daughter finally spoke up. A subsequent investigation conducted by the FDLE Crimes Against Children squad revealed the “boy” was actually a 43 year-old man.

Imagining a worst-case scenario of what might have been led me to write Pretty Little Things. While the book is fictional, the concept of internet predators stalking teens on the internet is not. I hope readers will see how easy it is for a child—any child—to meet the wrong person through Facebook or MySpace or in a chatroom, and be “groomed” even when you’re steps away in the kitchen sipping coffee.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Pretty Little Things"by Kristine H. (see profile) 04/23/11

It was a very quick read that kept you on the edge of your seat. It was scary to think that this is actually happening and how you have to think before you really let a child go on the internet unsupervised.... (read more)

by Kayla W. (see profile) 02/21/22

  "Pretty Little Things"by Bonnie D. (see profile) 08/15/11

  "Quick read"by Tamara E. (see profile) 08/13/11

I had a difficult time getting into the book, but once I did I didn't want to put it down. Although it is scary when we think about our children and how many are on the internet it make me think as a parent.... (read more)

  "Pretty Little Things"by Jennifer G. (see profile) 08/12/11

This book was slightly predictable. A very scary/life changing book for those of us with daughters. Especially teenage daughters!

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