Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all doing well. Today I’m posting my review of Mary Kubica’s psychological thriller, ‘Pretty Baby’. I absolutely loved this book and highly recommend it to those of you who can handle the dark subject matter. Keep reading to discover my thoughts…
A chance encounter
She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…
An act of kindness
Heidi has always been charitable but her family are horrified when she returns home with a young woman named Willow and her baby in tow. Dishevelled and homeless, this girl could be a criminal – or worse. But despite the family’s objections, Heidi offers them refuge.
A tangled web of lies
As Willow begins to get back on her feet, disturbing clues into her past starts to emerge. Now Heidi must question if her motives for helping the stranger are unselfish or rooted in her own failures.
** TRIGGER WARNING ** Explores the theme of mental illness, including some complex, deep-rooted psychological issues following on from fertility issues and an abortion. Also explores the theme of childhood abuse in the form of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, including multiple scenes of rape. Also contains references to substance abuse and drug use.
‘Pretty Baby’ (2015) is Mary Kubica’s second psychological thriller, following on from ‘The Good Girl’ (2014). Since this, Kubica has also written ‘Don’t You Cry’ (2016), ‘Every Last Lie’ (2017), and her latest novel ‘When The Lights Go Out’ is due to be released on 23rd August 2018. Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University, and now lives outside of Chicago with her family.
The novel has received positive reviews, from the likes of Kirkus: “Pretty Baby is almost hypnotic and anything but predictable”, People: “A hypnotic psychological thriller” and NPR: “It’s a perfect setup, but the twists you expect aren’t the ones that arrive”. Fellow authors also praised the book, such as Lisa Scottoline: “This riveting psychological thriller had me turning the pages at warp speed” and Lisa Gardner: “A twisty, roller coaster ride”.
‘Pretty Baby’ is a claustrophobic, tense psychological thriller, with a moral lesson at its core. When Heidi lets a total stranger into her home, her entire world is turned upside down. She believes she is doing the right thing – but when secrets about Willow’s past begin to emerge, it soon becomes clear that nothing is as it seems…
The novel is narrated through the first-person perspectives of Heidi, Chris and Willow. Each chapter switches between characters, and so the reader is given an in-depth, detailed insight to the characters’ thoughts and feelings. The narrative is all told in the present day, although some allusions to the past are also included. Overall, the narrative structure is simple and easy to follow, but is still very effective.
Heidi is my favourite character in the novel. She’s charitable and kind, and always goes out of her way to help others. She’s extremely selfless and has strong morals, and she simply cannot bring herself to let a homeless girl and a baby stay on the streets. She loves her own family too and wishes for a stronger relationship with her daughter. However, it soon becomes clear that Heidi has many secrets lurking beneath the surface, and she is a very complex character. She’s suffering with some deep-rooted psychological issues, and her mental health begins to go downhill. I found that I could relate to Heidi and felt she was a fantastically-written character.
Willow is a young girl who has suffered greatly in her life. She’s been horrifically abused as a child, but is determined to do whatever it takes to keep her own child safe. She’s very young and is clearly struggling with bringing up a baby on the streets, and she has started to lose faith in humanity. When Heidi takes her in, she understandably struggles to open up and trust her, expecting that she will be abandoned soon. Like Heidi, Willow has any skeletons in the closet, and it soon becomes clear that she is not who she says she is. Willow is also a brilliantly-constructed, three-dimensional character.
Heidi’s husband Chris is a loving family man, but when Heidi brings a stranger into their home, it really tests their relationship. Chris loves Heidi so much, and he loves how charitable she is – but Chris is very sensible and grounded, and he cannot help but feel that Willow may potentially be dangerous. Chris is ambitious and hard-working, and spends a lot of time away from his family working. Of all the characters, I would say that perhaps Chris lacks the same depth that the others have, but he is definitely a well-needed character in the novel.
Other characters in the novel include: Zoe (Heidi and Chris’ daughter), Ruby (Willow’s daughter), Cassidy and others (Chris’ colleagues), Graham (Heidi and Chris’ neighbour), Jennifer (Heidi’s best friend), Joseph and Miriam (Willow’s previous foster family), Matthew (Willow’s previous friend), Lily (Willow’s sister) and more. There is a reasonably large cast of characters in the novel, but all bring something new and exciting to the novel.
** TRIGGER WARNING ** Explores the theme of mental illness in great detail. It particularly explores deep-rooted psychological issues which stem from fertility issues and a previous abortion. It also discusses physical illnesses, particularly cancer. The novel also explores the theme of childhood abuse in explicit detail, in the form of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Repeated childhood instances of rape are narrated in explicit detail. Finally, the novel also makes references to substance abuse and drug use. All of these issues are explored in great detail and with appropriate sensitivity, but if any may trigger a negative response, I suggest you skip this book.
As the narrative progresses, Heidi’s life spirals out of control. Her mental health begins to deteriorate, and she becomes very ill and in need of psychological intervention. The truth about Willow’s past comes out, and it is extremely shocking. She tries to do the best for her baby, but she is not capable of raising a child whilst in such a vulnerable state herself.
So, let’s talk about the ending. There’s a dramatic end scene in which Chris returns and finds a shocking scene unfolding. Heidi needs help, and fast, before she becomes a danger to herself and to those around her. The ending was jam-packed full of action, and I physically couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page. The pieces of the puzzle finally fit together, and everything finally makes sense. I was really pleased with the ending, and liked the fact that there was some ambiguity included.
Overall, I highly recommend this novel to those of you who enjoy psychological thrillers, particularly those of you who can deal with dark, intense subject matter. This novel is full of suspense and tension, brilliantly-constructed characters and a fantastic ending – what’s not to love?! For me, personally, this book was a little bit too dark, and I struggled to read some of the scenes. But that being said, I’m so glad I took the time to read it! An utterly addictive read.
Happy reading 🙂