Publisher: Orion | Publication date: This edition, Paperback – 21st April 2016
(Originally released in 2015)
Maggie Mitchell is quite the magnificent storyteller. There is an unsettling strangeness about this tale of child abduction, and not in the unnerving way this event typically conjures. Pretty Is has a certain oddness, almost a surreal quality, as though it’s holding something back, something that it will never fully reveal no matter how hard you look. The only thing I could gather is that the chosen ones share a connection no one else could understand.
This story of a curious kidnapping is told in four ‘parts’, which borders on a character study of each individual as they tell their version of events. In the main the chapter headings alternate continually between the two main characters, a spelling bee champ, Lois, and a semi-reluctant pageant-happy, Carly-May (reinvented as Chloe in later life). We’re given a glimpse into their personalities to chip away at their twelve year old past, and their present day lives.
To a degree both of them appeared to have a bizarre popularity complex to win over their kidnapper during a summer they were held captive. I say ‘captive’, they appear to willingly accompany an anonymous felon known only as Zed. Sure, they raise an eyebrow at the situation and occasionally contemplate the reasons why they have been drawn together, but they never really question their actions.
To me, that is a little freaky. It pushes this horrifying scenario just a little outside of my grasp. Some of the choices these girls made jarred with me – I was torn between closing the cover never to return again, and something gnawing at me to continue reading. Continue I did, as I was too intrigued not to!
After being driven to their isolated destination we learn the girls existed in their own little bubble in the woods – no contact with the outside, only the enigmatic Zed (like the last letter in the alphabet). For all they knew the rest of the world was thinking imaginable thoughts about the things that may have already happened to them. Then why on earth didn’t they react – bite, kick, screech – ANYTHING? Exactly what hold did Zed have over them when they weren’t locked up and might have walked away? Were they naïve, a little attention-crazed, or something else entirely?
The feel of the book shifts when we’re treated to an excerpt from a book Lois wrote under a pen name, loosely based on their experience in the woods. Carly-May/Chloe, now an actress, is surprisingly starring in the film adaptation, and is taking her role very seriously. Until they come face-to-face in their respective adult spheres, we continue the journey of their relationships with their families then and now, the closeness and odd envy of each other, and of course Zed’s presence still haunts them, even though that’s quite impossible. The momentum picks up the pace when an incident threatens their already shaky reunion.
Due to the continual header exchanges, swapping between Lois and Carly-May/Chloe I admit found the reading experience a little daunting. Personally I could only digest small portions of it at a time. BUT, the characters were developing such unique personalities I simply had to see them through to the end of their ordeal.
There’s no doubt that the peculiar method of storytelling enhances the psychological shadow this novel casts, making it both maddening and brilliant in equal measure.
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
Lois and Carly-May were just twelve when they were abducted by a stranger and imprisoned in a cabin in the woods for two months.
That summer, under the watchful gaze of their kidnapper, they formed a bond that would never be broken.
Decades later, both women have new lives and identities. But the events of that summer are about to come back with a vengeance.
Lois and Carly-May must face the truth about their secret, shared past…
What really happened in the woods that summer?
(Courtesy of the Publisher’s ARC)
Maggie Mitchell has published short fiction in a number of literary magazines. She teaches English and creative writing at the University of West Georgia.
Pretty Is is her first novel.
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