by Maggie Mitchell
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Published by: Henry Holt & Company
Genre: Psycholical, Kidnapping, Character-Driven
Rating: 3.5 Stars
NOTICE: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Everyone thought we were dead. We were missing for nearly two months; we were twelve. What else could they think? --Lois
It's always been hard to talk about what happened without sounding all melodramatic. . . . Actually, I haven't mentioned it for years, not to a goddamned person. --Carly May
When 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. Maggie Mitchell's spellbinding debut Pretty Is is about the repercussions of that formative summer, when two girls who previously did not know each other shared an experience that would shape all their days to come.
At the novel's start, Lois Lonsdale has begun teaching British literature at a small college in upstate New York. Out in LA, Chloe Savage (formerly Carly May) is a lonely actress, drinking too much and struggling to revive her career. When a movie script with a shockingly familiar plot comes into their lives, the women must grapple with unresolved losses and gains that have lain hidden for years behind the public's feverish presumptions.
While the basis of the story is the kidnapping of two pre-teens, seemingly at random, the author chooses instead to focus on how that short amount of time altered who the girls are in present-day, even alluding that their time with the stranger was more pleasant than the lives they were stolen away from. It's not your typical, formulaic kidnapping story, and I liked that.
The basis for the plot is that Lois wrote a fictionalized account of their two months of entrapment under a nom de plume. The successful best-seller is now being made into a movie with the focus on the fictional lead detective who tracked down the kidnapper and saved the day. In a strange twist of fate, Carly May, now known as actress Chloe, is cast in that role. What at first seems like a straight forward plot of flashbacks of their time with Zed the kidnapper and the coming together of the girls in their adult lives veers off course into Ms. Mitchell's real area of expertise: a long, deep look at the psychological motivations of Zed, Lois and Carly May, then and now. While that too sounds predictable, the author turns that tired plot device on its head when we realize Zed wasn't a horrible monster and that the girls actually liked being chosen by Zed and taken away from their previously unhappy living conditions.
While I felt it took too long for the women to reunite and I felt cheated that we never really did find out who Zed was or why he did what he did, the book was satisfying on the merits of characterization and psychology alone.