Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Book Review: Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

From Goodreads:
The summer precocious Lois and pretty Carly May were twelve years old, they were kidnapped, driven across the country, and held in a cabin in the woods for two months by a charismatic stranger. Nearly twenty years later, Lois has become a professor, teaching British literature at a small college in upstate New York, and Carly May is an actress in Los Angeles, drinking too much and struggling to revive her career. When a movie with a shockingly familiar plot draws the two women together once more, they must face the public exposure of their secret history and confront the dark longings and unspeakable truths that haunt them still. Maggie Mitchell's Pretty Is beautifully defies ripped-from-the-headlines crime story expectations and announces the debut of a masterful new storytelling talent. 
I want to start with the positives, so I'm going to put entertainment value first with this book.  I feel like when I start with critiques, it sounds like I didn't enjoy the book, and I want it to be clear that I thoroughly enjoyed my read of this one, despite having some issues with the writing.

Entertainment Value
I love kidnapping stories, and was super intrigued by this one, which had the promise of not just a kidnapping but a mysterious secret the kidnapped girls have been keeping for almost twenty years.  In terms of engagement with the story, this did not disappoint.  I loved the creepiness of Lois and her modern stalker contrasted with the seeming innocence of the actual kidnapper.  I also enjoyed having both Lois and Carly May as narrators and getting to hear each explore their beliefs and opinions about the other.  My one complaint is that the ending didn't live up to the tension that builds during the book.  It happens too  quickly and without as much drama as the reader expects with all of the tension throughout the book.

This is where I had some real issues with the book.  If the book were intended to be a thriller and had a harrowing or twisted ending, I wouldn't have minded that we never really and truly figure out what the kidnapper was thinking or whether or not Lois is in her right mind.  On the other hand, I wouldn't mind the anti-climactic ending if we had really gotten into the psychology of the characters and the kidnapper.  Unfortunately, we get just a touch of both, and neither left me feeling fulfilled.  I never really understood the motivations of any of the characters, including our two narrators.  And I didn't feel like we got a good glimpse at where they were headed or how they had been impacted by the trauma in any way other than the most obvious actions - drinking, writing a book based on the story, losing touch with family.  I felt like the author tried too hard to fill the book with both thrills and psychology, but didn't really manage to pull of either at the end.

I enjoyed my reading experience and devoured the book in two sittings.  In that way, the book was a complete success.  It's a debut novel, and I think it was a fairly strong first novel.  On the other hand, I felt let down by the ending and never really connected with the motivations of any character, which was a disappointment.  I'm not sure that I'd recommend this one to others, but I will keep an eye on Mitchell's future writing and would be willing to read her again.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

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