Phew, there is a tough crowd and Goodreads and LibraryThing both that doesn't seem to think much of Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell, so I was pretty skeptical going in even though I accepted a review copy thinking this book sounded pretty fascinating. Happily, I think I liked it a good bit more than a lot of people seemed to. Usually the opposite is true where people looooove a book and I'm thinking, "What's the big deal?" so this was a pleasant change of pace.
Mitchell is a debut novelist, and with that considered, Pretty Is becomes that much more impressive. Mitchell skillfully weaves together many different stories in one. She brings her two damaged main characters to life, exploring their upbringings and their leftover traumas both from the abduction and the scars they carry with them from their own family lives. At the same time, Mitchell is exploring each character's present, and even including a swathe of Lois's novelization of the abduction that proves particularly compelling. As the novel becomes a movie and Lois starts a sequel and a mysterious student starts unearthing Lois's path, the stories pile up, but not all of them are equally well-handled. The Sean the creepy student storyline, in particular, seems extraneous to the rest of the novel, a side show perhaps intended to reveal how troubled uber-controlled Lois's thoughts still are.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that the "excerpt" from Lois's novel that fills out the middle of the book is so much more compelling that it makes the rest of the novel pale somewhat in comparison. The pages in this section flew by in a way that Carly May and Lois's more introspective narratives do not. That said, Mitchell's story layering style is ambitious and, on the whole, successful. While I didn't love the characters, I was taken in by their stories and eager for the two to meet again and unpack their shared psychological trauma. If you're looking for a page-turning mystery/thriller sort of novel, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a deeper, more literary effort that does a fascinating job of illuminating the confused aftermath of an abduction, definitely give Pretty Is a try.
(I received a free copy of from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)