Overall Pretty Is is an outstanding debut novel from writer Maggie Mitchell. The description struck me immediately and I devoured it in a single sitting. However, it’s not without its faults. Despite creating multiple narratives from the point of view of Lois, Carly May and the fictional re-telling from Lois’s perspective we never get a complete story. The ending, while understandable, doesn’t create any sort of satisfaction for the characters or the reader.
The story follows 12-year-olds Lois and Carly May after they are abducted from an unknown captor. They both went with their captor so willingly – later admitting that each wanted to feel special. They end up spending 6 weeks with Zed, their settled upon title of this mysterious man. Never touching them, hurting them or abusing them in any way he challenges them to be better that they are. Eventually Zed ends his own life once he has been caught. They leave scared not by the events that happened, but in trying to understand why.
Lois goes on to become an English Professor and fiction writer. She becomes a modest success with her re-telling of their childhood kidnapping. Carly May becomes an actress in LA – or trying to, at least. Only when the script from Lori’s book shows up from her agent do things start to get complicated.
Despite the book being sectioned off by both Lois and Carly May it truly feels like we’re being told the story from Lois’s perspective. She truly controls the story, the narrative and pushes the boundaries of both herself and those around her. Carly May may be the pretty one, but Lois is the substance. 1/2 of the book is even dedicated to a selection of her novelization of their experience. Lois is also untrustworthy. Carly May is honest and upfront, transparent with the reader. Lori’s biggest failure is only revealed by Carly May. But her secret isn’t enough to save the ending.
Mitchell’s novel feels unfinished. There is no new understanding between Lois and Carly May. Despite new conflict from Lois’s student Sean, there is no real threat. I finished the book with a longing for something more. Like a puzzle piece missing that would turn a rabbit into a swan. The ending almost feels like it’s a wish fulfilled for our girls as they try to move past their youth and take advantage of their lives. letting go and accepting that there wasn’t anything to understand.
Pretty Is is available July 7th from Henry Holt and Co. – find it here.