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Pretend We Are Lovely

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  366 ratings  ·  75 reviews
Consuming and big-hearted, Noley Reid’s Pretend We Are Lovely details a summer in the life of the Sobel family in 1980s Blacksburg, Virginia, seven years after the tragic and suspicious death of a son and sibling.

Francie Sobel dresses in tennis skirts and ankle socks and weighs her allotted grams of carrots and iceberg lettuce. Semi-estranged husband Tate prefers a packed
Paperback, 284 pages
Published July 18th 2017 by Tin House Books
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Average rating 3.43  · 
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Apr 28, 2017 rated it really liked it

The title of this book sums up the Sobel family--All surface and superficial but horribly dysfunctional.
Francie is the mother of two young girls Enid, aged ten and Vivian, aged twelve, almost thirteen. Tate Sobel, father and husband teaches classes at the university and is living in an apartment near campus having an affair with a nineteen year old student named Holly. There was a son named Sheldon that mysteriously and suspiciously died seven years ago at the
Scrappymags 3-word review: Dysfunctional family ruin.  A solid 4/4.5 star 
My book reviews are all on my website at at publication date!

Genre: Contemporary fiction (1980's setting), release 7/18/17

Shortest summary ever: Francie is a mom to 2 girls - Vivian and Enid (13 and 10 respectively), married to Tate, a college professor. Let's put it this way - she won't be winning mom of the year awards. Estranged from Tate, battling an eating disorder, and haunted by the strange d
Julia Fierro
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Noley Reid's stunning novel Pretend We Are Lovely is about hunger―for love, for acceptance, for forgiveness after an unforgivable loss leaves a family shattered. Readers will be spellbound by this intimate portrayal of a family told in a symphony of voices―each member of the Sobel family's search for redemption equally urgent and compelling. Like the best love songs, Noley Reid's novel is sad but hopeful, raw but tender, shocking but, ultimately, deeply comforting.
Caroline Bock
Gripping, and yes, lovely in its spare, unsparing prose. Noley Reid's story is set in the 1980s in Blacksburg, VA and is about a family (four points of view - father, mother, two young daughters) beset by emotional hunger, by needs that can't be fed, by the death of the oldest child, a son, years before. The consequences of this death resonate in each family member -- and resonate in their relationship to food (binging, overeating, anorexia). My only wish for this novel -- more of the adult poin ...more
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Originally posted on: The Quirky Book Nerd

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Pretend We Are Lovely is one of those novels that really makes you think—both during and after—but where the real impact of the plot and themes within it hits you a little while after you have turned the final page. After you’ve let it simmer in your mind for some time. This is a story that revolves around hunger and nourishment of both the body and soul. And behind the f
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, va-book-panel
Told in 4 rotating points of view, this is the story of a family struggling to recover from the death of a child. The parents and two daughters cope, or attempt to cope, in different ways, and the question of the book is will they succeed? While the situation they face isn't new--we've seen other marriages crumble under the weight of a child's death--there is something fresh about the voices here as well as the chosen coping mechanisms.
Jessie Gray
Sep 01, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Noley Reid’s debut is a strange, enchanting book. The larger tale of the Sobel family just sort hovers and breathes, a weird counterpoint to the characters who populate it, each one so distinctly alive and in motion.
I don’t think Reid had a plot in mind when she wrote much of this book - but that’s okay, I think, because the vivacity of the narrators takes up most of your attention, and their own individual small stories build a bridge upon which the story makes successful crossing. In any case
Jorie Mark
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this book fascinating, deeply upsetting and thoughtful....the children in this novel are stuck between "feast and famine," between an indulgent, loving, pleasure-seeking dad and a mom who is all about denial, self-punishment and disgust with food, with imperfection, with mess. It was a novel about food and shame and body image, but also about much more than those things. The 80s feel was very authentic, and each of the characters had a distinct and true voice.
Annie Hartnett
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A tender portrayal of a family reeling after loss, and what makes this book stand out is the exploration of the family's relationship with food. A book that will break your heart, but still leave you hopeful. Beautifully written.
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Perfectly rendered characters!
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: general-fiction
And the award for 1982's Most Dysfunctional American Family goes to... the Sobels. There's patriarch, Tate, a feminist philosophy professor who sleeps with his young female students. Mother, Francie, who meticulously weighs and calculates each morsel of food, recording her daily allotments on notecards. Thirteen-year-old daughter, Vivvy, following fast in her mother's footsteps, eschewing nourishment. And, Enid, ten, who stuffs her feelings, gorging on whatever she is able to find in the kitchen ...more
Donna Foster
Apr 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review
A family's experiences and struggles centered around food was like reading a ticking time bomb story.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
There are certain books that are read that are so worth reading, but once it is over, you never want to read it again. This is one of those books. The characters are great, the writing is incredible, but the story is such a rough one.

The story is told from 4 points of view- daughter Vivian who is 13, daughter Enid who is 10, dad Tate, and mother Francie. It is the story of a family trying to hold it together following the mysterious death of their son.

Tate and Francie are separated, yet they ke
Jean Pace
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written book. I loved the way it was set up with super short vignettes from the different main characters. And I loved the sparse prose.

Also, it's been a while since I've read such a completely character-driven book and I'd forgotten how compelling intriguing characters can be. These characters were done so well that finding out what happened to them was just as important and driving to me as finding out what was going to happen in a book with a compelling plot. Despite the heavy th
Marisa Turpin
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not a whole lot happens in this book, and yet, a whole lot happens in this book. The story centers on the Sobel family in the summer of 1982. So many things made this book relatable to me. First of all, the parents are separated, and the older Sobel daughter (Vivian) is only one year older than I was when my parents split. Secondly, it's set in Blacksburg, VA. I grew up in Roanoke, which is close by. The author mentioned Interstate 81, K92 radio and other local landmarks that tickled me to no en ...more
Aug 12, 2017 rated it liked it
There were a couple of blaring typos which I would have thought Tin House copyeditors would have caught prior to publication.

Reid incorporated a number of eating disorders in this family drama. No one's food issues are resolved; in fact, there isn't much resolution at all in the story. It seemed all fairly typical, absent parents and siblings who are mean to each other. Some big coming-of-age topics are glossed over and never returned to. I enjoyed that every main character narrates part of the
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
It seemed a promising premise, and I admit it did have its moments. But... I kept waiting for the story to "start"—to take shape, to gather momentum, to clarify its direction and/or intention. (Spoiler: it never did.) The ending is possibly the best crafted part of the entire work. The blink-and-you-miss-them changes in POV felt, at first, rather sloppy; eventually they became annoying and felt overwrought. Not my best book choice here.
Connie  Kuntz
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Pretend We Are Lovely is a sad story. It takes place in the south in 1982. It's about what is left of a physically and emotionally shrinking family. One son is dead. (Seven years ago, in 1975, Mom hit him with the car in the driveway, oops.)

Mom is spiritually, emotionally, and physically unavailable; deep in the throes of anorexia. She is so thin that when Dad cleans her up so he can transport her to the hospital, he wipes for her after she tinkles and "feels only bones."

The parents fight. Mom
Jessica // Starjessreads
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid follows the Sobel family during the summer of 1982, seven years after the suspicious death of the only son of the family. Francie, Tate, and their daughters Enid (ten) and Vivvy (twelve) are grappling with their various hungers, literal and emotional. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of all four Sobels, each with their own secrets and burdens. Food is a central character, with each child mirroring the issues of one parent or the other. Franc ...more
Kelsi H
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Please read all of my reviews at!

Pretend We Are Lovely explores the lives of the Sobel family in small town Virginia in the 1980s. The parents, Francie and Tate, are recently separated and the entire family is still dealing with the aftermath of the death of their son/brother seven years previous – the boy died under suspicious circumstances, and Francie carries the blame for his loss.

Francie has always struggled with food, but with her estranged husband out of

I'm torn about my rating on this one - for the most part this is a well written novel with a fascinatingly dark and fucked up family. But... this was not a satisfying read, I wasn't able to take anything away from it, and I have no desire to reread it or revisit it.

The crux of the story revolves around the death of eldest son Sheldon, who seems to have had a form of mental retardation, or slightly on the spectrum. His death was caused when Francie, his mother, "accidentally" runs him over wit
A book about a family in crisis, two little girls growing up in a deeply dysfunctional household, where eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food abound. I thought the family drama bits were good - it felt true in that way a good story can, when you're getting to the heart of why something is broken (in this case, an entire family). That said, I thought there was WAY too much emphasis on the eating disorders. While I was reading, I kept thinking, "This feels like the author is tryin ...more
Aug 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
3.5 stars. This book was very interesting to read. To be honest, it was pretty sad throughout the whole book and I had to take breaks while reading to keep my spirits up. The messages were great and you really felt everything that the characters were. It made me think about the world that is around me and what people think about themselves. In our world people expect perfection and there is the standard that for girls to be pretty that means that they must be skinny. But that is so not true! Bea ...more
I don't know how I feel about this. The characters were vivid, and interesting, but it often felt like an incredible slog. The perspective changes constantly, not always to a benefit (literally changing over to another character, just for two paragraphs of introspection and then back) because they tell you their own actions, but don't really add any of their own internal reasoning, so it's as confusing to the reader the "why" of each decision as it would be if the author just narrated it all fro ...more
Diane Haney
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways-won
Sweet, sad story of a family scarred by the questionable death of the youngest child, who was run over by his mother. The story is told by alternating narratives of the father, mother and two daughters ages 10 and 13 over the course of four or five months. Much is learned between the lines by what is not said. We come to realize the mother has deep emotional problems and perhaps has always had them. The family is disfunctional and each member is shown to respond to their situation with a type of ...more
Diane Payne
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
When I first started reading, for no explainable reason, I simply sighed after realizing it was another book written in the voice of four main characters. After I started reading, the micro chapters made perfect sense. It was like reading four micro memoirs of family members struggling with the death of a young son and an unusual relationship to food. Throughout the book, I kept wondering if the death of the son was accidental or intentional, and even now I'm still not sure. After all the hints, ...more
Amanda (Books, Life and Everything Nice)
Pretend We Are Lovely is an insightful unique read about the ways a family doesn’t cope with the loss of a child. The father copes by eating more. The mother copes by developing an eating disorder. She is no longer interested in anything, because of it. Not her children, husband, relationship, not even caring for herself. It consumes her while she barely consumes anything. The children currently, ages 13 and 10, are left to fend for themselves. It’s been about eight years since Sheldon died. Viv ...more
Stephanie Braswell
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book centered around a grief-stricken family and their unhealthy relationships with food and one-another. The topic itself is not one I can relate to, but I found the author took meticulous care to describe the feelings and attempted logic behind eating disorders.
This book took me a few days to read, the subject itself was difficult but the story and characters were pretty well developed... but I had a bunch of questions when I finished, because there was a big glaringly un
Julie Harms Cannon
A Story for Your Inner Child and Your Everyday Life

I am so grateful for this book! It spoke to so many periods of my life: the daughter I was, the wife and mother I became, and also my eating disorder recovery. The characters in this book lived and breathed as I moved through the story. I identified with nearly every one. I hated to say goodbye to Vivvy, Tate, Enid, and Francie. I wish them all peace, love, and light as they move on with their lives. I can imagine a happy ending as I now know th
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