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Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

Trauma is reborn for the victims of a double abduction, nearly 20 years after their rescue.

pretty is

Two women in their 30s: Chloe is an almost-famous actor barely hanging on to her Hollywood career; Lois is a precocious junior professor with two book contracts. They share a past neither wants known. When they were 12, Lois and Chloe–then known as Carly May–were abducted and held in a hunting lodge in the Adirondacks for a summer before being rescued. This secret, the victimization they just want to forget, comes back to haunt them in Maggie Mitchell’s first novel, Pretty Is.

The action alternates between the present lives of Lois and the reinvented Chloe/Carly May, and flashbacks to the summer they spent with a man they called Zed. They’ve stuck by their story that he never touched or hurt them, not that anyone seems to believe that. Now, Lois’s latest project and a peculiarly disturbed student seem poised to intersect with Chloe’s struggling acting career. The question becomes not what Zed did nearly 20 years ago, but what agency do the adult women have in their own lives?

Suspenseful, quick-paced and action-driven, Pretty Is also wisely invests in character development. Carly May may have been a beauty queen, but she was an intelligent child, too; Lois was a spelling-bee champion and confirmed bookworm as well as pretty, and those lists of spelling words still serve as a mental aid. Mitchell’s greatest strength, however, is in the riveting, magnetic pull of her plot, as the stakes grow higher and Pretty Is rushes toward its finale.


This review originally ran in the July 17, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 6 text messages.

4 Responses

  1. So after reading this, I looked at another review on LibraryThing. Without giving spoilers, it said that the ending was disappointing because it left too much up to ambiguity and a lot of questions weren’t answered in a way that would satisfy the reader. Do you agree?

    • Full disclosure: this book already feels like one I read a long time ago. (That happens these days. My reading has gotten pretty high-volume.) But I think that’s probably why it got a 6 and not a 7. For those paying close attention, a 7 is kind of my standard, yes, this is a good book; above that is highly recommended and below was either a miss for my personal taste, or represents some failure in my subjective eyes. I don’t think the ending sucked, but it’s on the vague side. Wanting everything wrapped up neatly is, I think, a matter of preference; a gauzier finish is not unacceptable, just suits a different reader. I think I found this ending imperfect from a more objective stance, too, actually. But I didn’t regret the time I spent or anything. It was entertaining. Does that suitably answer you (spoiler free)?

      • Yes! I don’t always want everything wrapped up neatly, but I suspect this is a little too gauzy for my taste. Especially when I’m reading outside my usual genres, I want a payoff to make it worth the detour. šŸ™‚ OTOH, my idea of “payoff” doesn’t always mean something grandiose.

  2. Lovely. Yes, this might not be the one.

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