Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

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Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: When everyone thinks you're dead, but you're not, you have a lot to live up to. An unusual story of two girls whose worlds collide one summer.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2016
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 978-1409152682

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One summer there are two disappearances. Two 12 year old girls from opposite coasts go missing, presumed abducted, presumed dead. Maybe they're connected, maybe they aren't. Two months later they are rescued alive and returned to their families. But can they ever really go home again?

As this book starts we are not with pre-teens but with grown-ups. It's now years later and the two women have jobs and lives of their own. One is a professor and author who has written a book about two girls being abducted. It's about to be turned into a screenplay. Which is a coincidence, because the other woman is an actress of sorts.

This is an interesting story or rather a nested story within a story. Just when you are getting frustrated by the lack of details about that summer, just when you are fed up of being in the present when the facts of the past sound much juicier, it all changes, and we go from the 'real' world of now to a fictitious world, with a prolonged except from the novel I mentioned. You know, the one about two girls being abducted. The one that may or may not be inspired by true events. Confused? Don't be. It's a book within a book but it all becomes clear as you read.

I liked the approach of this one. It's not quite as creepy as Room by Emma Donoghue or as disturbing as Baby Doll by Hollie Overton but it had a bit of the same feel. However the key difference here is that we know what happens next. We're not left, post escape, wondering whether the abductee will cope returning to life on the outside. It's years later now and, to a greater or lesser extent, they have coped, but there's no denying those few months that summer have shaped these women and had on impact on who they have become. Lois and Carly May are two very different characters. There's no reason why they shouldn't be, as they are not sisters or even friends, just two strangers whose lives overlapped for eight weeks or so when they were in high school. I liked Lois a little more, but I'm not sure if that's because we meet her first or because I identified more with her career and life choices. That said I love a good pageant, so Carly May's stories of her competition days hooked me too.

I lend out lots of books to the girls in the office, and we have a joke at the moment than anything I bring in will be a psychological thriller. It's not a genre I grew up with, but it does seem to be where I'm gravitating towards of late, and this book certainly fits the bill. It's not gory but it is chilling at times. The reason we care about the story now, all those years later, is because something is About To Happen that will dredge up the past, and it's pretty frightening in places.

This is a debut novel and you can see hints of this as you read. There is a lot crammed in, almost as if the author wanted to put every idea into the same story in case it was the only chance she had. It is also a bit jilted in places, and the story can struggle to flow with all the changes in time and viewpoint, without an overarching narrative. Quite a lot of the situations are a little far-fetched, and require you to suspend belief otherwise you'll get angry.

Overall I enjoyed probably 70% of the book. At times I struggled to keep going but then it would turn a corner and be back on track. It wasn't the most compelling book I've read this year – in part because it jumps around so much that suspense cannot always build, but it was very readable and has lots to get your teeth into.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending us a copy to review. If you like (ahem) psychological thrillers, you might also enjoy The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne

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