A mother, a closet, and some memories + Maggie Mitchell’s “Pretty Is”

It was the part of organizing her daughters’ closets that she hated.

When it was time to do some purging and re-organizing, The Mom got slightly excited. It meant cleaner spaces with less chaos, and anything she could do to hold of chaos thrilled her almost as much as boys had thrilled her in high school.


But there was always one part of the purging that got to her: the shedding of clothes her daughters’ had worn throughout the year. Because, in The Mother’s memories, she could see the clothes as clearly as the memories themselves.

vaAkKH8kqlWh8W73E1pH-uDyhGH7N_R-NAtKW1tG6L8LAYspNHere was the sundress worn on the vacation to Arizona to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Here was the parka worn last year to play in the snow. Here is the tracksuit, with her name sewn in it, for the swim team.

The clothing has multiple layers holding a myriad of memories. Because of hand-me-downs and two girls, each article of clothing harbors history from more than one child. The outfit worn at the older daughter’s 8th birthday dinner is the same outfit the younger daughter wore for her school pictures. The outfit worn in Aruba by one is worn to a neighbors’ fire pit by the other. A sweatshirt earned with good grades and chores by the elder has become a second thought, worn camping, by the younger.

Each shirt folded into the bin, every dress tucked in neatly, each skirt and pair of jeans bAtZ0VDdrGjVbDjnjbA2HarDe2PqC7DToxfurwmp6WMLAYspNplaced one-by-one on top of the other — without exception, these clothes hold memories. Some even hold memories outside of the family. This Hello Kitty nightgown was worn by an older girl, the daughter of a friend, and has been handed down to both of The Mother’s girls. It’s ultra-soft and worn, but reminds The Mother of good memories of that older friend at a younger age, that friend now caught between being a girl and becoming a woman and too busy for childish games.

Soon, the closet will be purged and new clothes will be brought in. The clothes folded away will be handed down, sold, or given away, and will create new memories for new families. A few tears have been shed, but the cleanliness is worth it.

Now, onto Maggie Mitchell’s Pretty Is.

Putting your past behind you is never easy, but setting aside a childhood abduction is nearly impossible. Just ask Lois and Carly May.

The Premise

The summer of her twelfth year, beautiful, pageant queen Carly May is taken off the street of her small Nebraska town and driven across the country to Connecticut, where she watches as her abductor takes another girl; smart, pretty, spelling bee champion Lois Lonsdale.

Flash forward to their late-twenties. After they were rescued, the two girls attempted to return to their regular lives, and were successful to a point. Lois is a professor at a small New England college, Carly May, now Chloe, is a struggling actress. After Lois writes a fictional account of their summer with Zed under a pseudonym, their kidnapper, it is optioned for a movie. When Carly/Chloe gets a large part in the movie, their pasts began to come together and they must face that summer. Add in a stalker student for Lois, and things get down right dicey.

My Thoughts

Pretty Is reminded me a bit of Emma Donoghue’s Room and a bit of a Gillian Flynn novel, but different from both. Dark and psychologically disturbing with twists and turns around every corner.

There were a few things that didn’t make sense to me, though. I wanted more of Zed’s motivation, and more of the reasons the girls thought so little of their parents (not Carly May’s stepmother, but her father, and Lois’s parents). And what happened to Zed’s family? A little more of the in-between time.

Despite these points, Pretty Is was a great thriller that kept me reading hungrily. I give it 3.5 stars.


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