Book Review: Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

Posted July 7, 2015 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 6 Comments

Book Review: Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell
Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell
Published by Henry Holt & Co. on July 7, 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: Literary Fiction
Format: Galley
Source: Publisher
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The summer Lois and Carly May were 12 years old, they were abducted by a charismatic stranger and held in a remote cabin in the mountains of upstate New York for six weeks before being rescued. Twenty years later, Lois is a literature professor at a small college and the author of a thriller based on her abduction, written under a pseudonym, and Carly May has reinvented herself as an actress in Los Angeles. After two decades of silence, the two women are brought back together when Carly May, acting under a stage name, lands a part in a movie based on Lois’s book. Reunited on the film’s set, they must work out their complicated relationship and their unresolved feelings about the man who kidnapped them.

This kind of ripped-from-the-headlines story is irresistible, and Maggie Mitchell takes a really interesting approach to the girls’ abduction; mixed in with the trauma of being held in an unfamiliar place with a strange, enigmatic man is a surprising pleasure — that they have been chosen, that their difficult or dissatisfying lives have been interrupted with a grand adventure. It’s a really complex dynamic — both between the two girls and between them and their kidnapper — and it’s fascinating to see how they have dealt with the fallout for most of their lives.

If Pretty Is had stayed within these bounds, I would have loved it. However, Mitchell inserts a thriller component that feels out of place. Before going to meet Carly May, Lois is working on a sequel to her moderately-selling thriller when events in her life take on an eerie parallel to the story she is inventing. At times, it felt delightfully mind-bending, but mostly it felt forced and wasn’t resolved very well; I think the novel would have been stronger without it, and it lowered my rating a bit on Goodreads.

Overall, Pretty Is is a decent novel to take camping or to read on the beach this summer, especially for fans of Room by Emma Donoghue. It thoughtfully handles some really interesting relationships, and the thriller angle gives it the pulpy quality of a summer vacation read.

This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.


  • I agree with you – loved the take on how the girls viewed the kidnapping and how the families, etc then viewed the girls upon their return…and wish the story had gone deeper into those two things rather than the thriller angle. Something just didn’t quite jive for me with the whole Sean thing…it just seemed odd.

  • Yes! That was exactly how I felt… that ending thriller component was completely off and had me upset. I knew I didn’t like the ending but I think it was that switch, the loss of potential Maggie Mitchell had…
    I wonder if the author had a push from someone to make it more mainstream and ride the “gone girl” wave, just sad.

    My favorite part of the book was the connection between the girls. I felt like the thriller section messed up with the ending I wanted – the one that showed how they would reconnect or not… it was so overshadowed by this stupid Sean. Anyways, rambling. My review is up today too on this one.

  • Great review. Child abduction is one of those topics I can’t read about (my list of topic aversions has grown after becoming a parent!). It just upsets me too much. I loved Frog Music, but can’t read Room. Maybe someday.

  • I read this one and liked it, I just didn’t have enough love for it to write a book review yet (if ever). Love the cover though, there’s something about the green and trees…

  • Man, this book had so much promise. Definitely looked like something I’d love, but I think I might skip it bc it just sounds messy.

  • I think you’re right that the book could have carried itself without that weird parallel-life element… I was intrigued enough by your description of the main premise! This one didn’t grab me when the hype train came by, so I’ll probably skip. Thanks for the review! 🙂