Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

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.

Pretty Is tells the story of Lois and Carly May, the grown up victims of a child abductor, struggling to find their ways in the confusing aftermath of their abduction, a strangely idyllic time that was, nonetheless, fraught with fear and left an inevitable impression on the two that trails them into adulthood.  The book alternates between the two women's perspectives, illuminating their lives and their struggles as they mature, somehow always feeling more connected to their abductor than to their own families.  Lois grew from a beautiful studious young girl into a smart college professor who spun her abduction into a famous novel written under a fake name.  Carly May, a brash former child beauty queen, changed her name to Chloe and abandoned her father and wicked stepmother to chase fame in Hollywood.  Though the two haven't seen each other in years, the time of their abduction lingers fresh in their minds, and when Lois's book finds its own way to Hollywood, the two might finally have the chance to revisit their shared past.

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.)


  1. Don't you love it when a book surprises you like that? I may give this one a try.

  2. I'm not really fond of abduction stories, yet something about this one makes me want to try it:)

  3. Interesting. This one sounds fascinating to me as well.

  4. I like being skeptical while going into a book rather than having super high expectations and ruining my own reading experience by constant expecting more from it. Nice that you found parts of the story gripping enough to finish reading it...I haven't so much luck lately.