I received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book has received some mixed reviews so going into it I was unsure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Pretty Is is a dark, compelling and engrossing story; a psychological mystery and a character study rolled into one. And I love that cover art.
This multi-layered story takes place over more than a decade, but the heart of the story is the six weeks in the 1990s, which twelve-year-olds Lois Lonsdale and Carly May Smith spent confined to a log cabin in the heart of a dense woods, held captive by a kidnapper whom they only knew as Zed.
In present-day the women are now 29 years old, both independent individuals who have gone on to forge relatively successful careers in their respective careers; Lois is a writer and English professor, Carly May (now known as Chloe Savage) is a C-list actress. But there’s no doubt the two have been shaped by their experience as children and, whilst they haven’t seen each other in years, old feelings and relationships are about to resurface when Lois’s book – based on the shared events of their childhood – is commissioned to become a film, and Chloe is invited to audition for a part.
The two girls chosen by Zed couldn’t have been more different, but both are successful in their own ways. At the time of the kidnapping, Carly May is a precocious young beauty pageant queen, whilst Lois is a much more solemn, bookish type who competes regularly in spelling bees. As they grow up, the disparity between them is all the more emphasised, and yet there’s an unshakeable bond which links the two.
“Anything I do – everything I will ever do – refers back to that event, somehow. It’s my story.”
Through flashbacks, book excerpts and present-day narration the past and present come together. As filming is about to begin recreating that fateful summer, Lois is attempting to write a fictional sequel about what happened when the girls grew up – it’s all a little close to home, and gradually the different time frames and strands begin to merge as Lois and Chloe arrange to meet up again after over a decade apart. “The past is collapsing into the present.” and the way past and present are brought together through a variety of narratives is complex, and clever.
As I reached the end of this novel, I thought I’d come up with a theory as to why this book didn’t sit well with some readers. There’s no Big Twist or Reveal; there’s tension throughout, but there’s not a particular defining moment in this novel, it’s much more subtle than that. Did it thrill me? I’m not too sure if this could be classed as a standard, cookie-cut fast-paced thriller, but it is intelligent, engrossing and dark. Hence, I’d go with saying that it’s more of a psychological character study, peeling the layers back on two successful but haunted individuals, exploring the emotional bond forged between two girls who could hardly be more different, and the complex relationships they both form with their kidnapper. And that makes it a lot more intelligent than your standard thriller in my book.