Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica
Pub. Date: July 28, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, MIRA!)
Summary: 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…
Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.
Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.
Genre: Contemporary, Adult, Psychological Thriller
Recommended for: Readers who like edge-of-your-seat rides and don’t mind a hearty dash of the psychological
Mary Kubica’s debut, The Good Girl has come highly recommended to me by two good friends who share a VERY similar taste in books. While I haven’t yet gotten around to her first novel, the moment I heard she was working on a new one I knew I needed to read it.
Pretty Baby centers on a small family in Chicago: Heidi, overly caring and selfless; Chris, an investment banker who spends more time in hotels than at home; and Zoe, on the brink of 13 and angry at the world. Heidi is a nurturer at heart – Chris is no longer surprised by the appearance of a new stray kitten – but one day she goes a step too far. After noticing a young girl with a baby at the train station, Heidi makes it a point to buy the girl dinner. Give her money for formula. Lend her Heidi’s very own coat (literally off her back). But when Heidi invites to the girl stay at her house, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into.
I love – love! – books with multiple POVs. With each chapter change, we see Pretty Baby through Chris’s eyes. Through Heidi’s. Through Willow’s. Digging down deep into their psyches really made the novel for me and uncovering the secrets of Willow’s past was a whirlwind (and oftentimes heartbreaking) journey. While there was a decent amount of backstory given (particularly with Heidi’s cancer that left her unable to have the big family she always wanted) I felt Willow was the character most developed and fleshed out. From becoming an orphan at 8 to living a horrible existence with a foster family (Joseph, her foster father, raped and abused her on a daily basis) and, finally, her escape, Willow felt the most ‘real’ to me. She watched as her little sister was quickly adopted and given a new name and loving home. She spent years locked away in a bedroom, forbidden from stepping foot outdoors or communicating with her foster brothers. I’m honestly impressed she was able to survive at all once she found a way out.
So while there was a nice dose of substance, there were also story lines that felt hurried and unnecessary. Heidi’s best friend. Chris’s femme fatale coworker and their almost-but-not-quite affair. Next door neighbor Graham. Many, many threads were introduced in Pretty Baby but were dropped to the wayside or hastily wrapped up in order to devote more time to solving the mystery behind Willow and baby Ruby.
The one thing I didn’t like about Pretty Baby was the virtual 180° spin on Heidi’s character at the very end – though I suppose this is where the psychological part comes in. I had a big long paragraph all typed up here before realizing just how spoilery it was. Sorry guys! I don’t want to ruin anything for you there.
While the ending didn’t quite work for me (it felt so sudden and out of the blue) and there were threads that either didn’t go anywhere or were quickly written off, I enjoyed Pretty Baby and tore through it VERY quickly. “Just one more chapter” turned into 100 pages, 200 pages, and before I knew it the book was finished. So much for savoring this one! Pretty Baby is an intense and engaging thriller, perfectly suited for poolside lounging or a rainy, isolated cabin.