Sunday, March 28, 2021

REVIEW: Her Pretty Face (book) by Robyn Harding

Her Pretty Face is a domestic thriller.

This review includes spoilers.


Frances Metcalfe is a stay-at-home mom struggling with low self-esteem and loneliness. Her 11-year-old son, Marcus, is difficult and prone to tantrums and acting out. Her husband works long hours at his tech job, so she's left to figure things out on her own, but she has no idea what to do. She doesn't even have another mom friend to turn to, someone who might understand what she's going through, because she can't seem to connect with any of the wealthy and beautiful parents at her son's private school.

But things change when Frances meets Kate. Kate is everything Frances is not, and yet somehow this confident and beautiful woman seems happy to be Frances's friend, to defend her when the other moms look down their noses at her. Marcus and Kate's son, Charles, become friends as well, and it does wonders for Marcus's behavior.

There's a problem, though. Both Kate and Frances are hiding things, and although they've both run away from their pasts, it isn't possible to leave them behind forever. One of them is really Amber Kunik, a woman who, years ago, helped rape, torture, and kill a 15-year-old girl.

This is another one of my old conference ARCs. It wasn't a bad book, but I had to force myself to finish it properly, without skipping straight to the end. Frances was exhausting, and it was hard to enjoy the mystery of who everyone was and what they might have done because I was so worried about Daisy, Kate's daughter.

The basic mystery ("which one of them is Amber?") wasn't nearly as complicated as I'd initially prepared myself for, which meant that, in the end, this boiled down to a drama about what would happen if you found out that a person in your life once did something truly horrible. Could that person change? How would you be able to tell if they had? And what would you do after finding everything out?

Unfortunately, none of those questions were really given as much room and attention as they needed. This was written like a thriller when what it really wanted to be was a family drama. I wanted the thriller more than the family drama, but if the book was going to go the family drama route, I wanted to believe the "moving past this" portions of the book more. However, they were too short and each contained moments that made me doubt things were really over and that those characters (the ones that weren't completely awful, at any rate) would truly be okay.

The one I worried about most was Daisy. The passages from her POV were extremely hard to read at times. She was only 14, with emotionally distant parents who moved the family every two or three years. School was nothing but misery after one of the boys lied and said she'd had sex with him. She desperately wanted and needed someone to care about her, and when she latched on to the strange adult man (30 or so years old) who kept driving around near her home, I was afraid things would end terribly for her. (Spoiler: she does end up surrounded by caring adults, but I was still left worried about her because she was determined to continue her friendship with that man once she was legally an adult, even though he'd once gotten her drunk with the intention of hurting her.)

This book did leave me with some things to think about, but I wouldn't call it an enjoyable read, and I'm glad to be done with it. I don't plan on reading any of Harding's other works.

Additional Comments:

In addition to the more obvious stuff, this should probably have a content warning for animal death. It's not on-page, but one character talks about killing a pet (a gerbil) - it's very sudden, with zero build-up or warning.

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