*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 façade of food and hunger, starving and eating, the true needs of this family shine through the cracks. It is a perfect warm, summer day read, whose pages will fly by quickly, but will simultaneously strike the reader with the surprising depth and heaviness of the subject matter.
This story follows a few months in the lives of the four members of the Sobel family. Mother Francie is struggling to deal with a great loss as well as the mental and emotional scars that come with it. Thirteen-year-old Vivvy and ten-year-old Enid are dealing with their own coming of age and new place in the world, all while attempting to cope with their struggling family life and their mother’s overbearing rules, primarily about food. Father Tate is trying his best to hold his family—and all of their lives—together as Franice begins to spiral out of control, further cracking the household’s foundation.
I’ll admit when I first started, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to end up enjoying this novel. It took me a little while to really get into it, but as soon as I did, I was fully captivated. This story is full of broken and lost, but deeply and utterly beautiful souls. They are surprisingly loveable and incredibly easy to connect with. Each one has their own distinctive voice and personality, and I found that they were very realistically portrayed. Reid demonstrated remarkable insight and skill in her creation of this fractured family.
The element of food and hunger becomes very prominent as we begin to get to know each of the characters and the dynamic of the household. They all harbor a hunger for something more on an emotional level that masks itself in a battle with their eating or dieting behaviors. And these battles manifest uniquely in each person. Vivvy and Enid each look to a different parent for cues on how to treat food. Enid follows her father’s habits of carefree eating while Vivvy mimics her mother’s struggle with food and obsessive dieting.
The relationships and constant instability of the foundation of this family was incredibly poignant. We watch Enid and Vivvy coming of age and learning to deal with many of the harsh realities of life. Francie and Tate are drifting further and further away from one another, and Tate is struggling to hold the family together as best he can for the sake of his daughters. Vivvy’s and Enid’s relationship with each other was my particular favorite to watch as it changes with the highs and lows of growing up. Tate’s love for his daughters was another one of my favorite aspects of this novel.
The writing style used in this novel might not be a hit with everyone. The perspective alternates frequently between each of the four members of the Sobel family, so the reader gets an intimate look at everyone’s perspective on the events of the plot. I found it quite interesting to see the shift in the behaviors and outlooks of the all of the characters, but it can be a bit confusing at times. There is quite a bit of jumping about, and this can make the plot a little tricky to follow. However, once I started to get used to it and became more aware of each character’s personality, it flowed a lot smoother.
The other aspect of the writing to note is the almost stream of consciousness-like style that Reid uses. For me personally, it really worked well and I enjoyed the tone that it set. It truly feels as if we as readers are intimately following the lives of a realistic family, and that brings so much depth into the novel and the messages it sends. However, I realize that, though it adds a great deal to the realism of the plot and characters, it can be somewhat of a difficult writing style to follow—so there are definite pros and cons to it for the reader.
It reads just the way a person’s train of thought would go, but that can also make things feel a bit disjointed. On top of that, the constant shift in perspective takes a little while to get fully immersed in, especially prior to really knowing the family. As a whole though, I ended up loving the format in which Reid wrote this novel. There were a lot more pros that out-weighed many of the minor cons in the style, and she completely sucked me in.
Overall, this was the big-hearted and consuming read it promised to be. Reid beautifully set the painful, destructive, yet loving atmosphere of a family in turmoil. I felt like I really connected with everyone, and found that I truly cared about each and every one of them. I experienced the hurt they both felt and inflicted, but also the small moments of caring, love and hope. Every emotion was tangible and I was completely wrapped up in their lives. The bittersweet final few chapters particularly stood out from the rest, and they are the ones that held onto me the longest....more
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is such a fun, adorable, and hilarious little novel. It is an extremely quirky adventure on a crazy flying machine, filled with ruthless bandits, insane inventors, and quite possibly the clumsiest kid in the world. While it is an incredibly over-the-top and outlandish story, I personally loved the randomness and absurdity of these characters’ journey. Every aspect of this novel is charming, having an overall atmosphere of warmth, family, and love. Though I am far from the target age-range of the intended audience for this book, I still had a fantastic time reading it—I could hardly keep a smile off my face.
In this novel, we follow a young boy named Waldo “W.B.” Baron as he wakes up one day to find out that his crazy inventor parents have renovated their house into a flying home. They plan to enter a competition where they are meant to fly around 1890’s North America on a scavenger hunt—the first people to return with every item on the list will win five-hundred dollars.
However, their plans take a twist when Rose Blackwood, the sister of the country’s most notorious criminal, sneaks aboard their flying house and holds W.B. and his family hostage. Her plan? To complete the race with the Baron family, then rob them of the prize in order to break her brother, Benedict Blackwood, out of jail. But, Rose Blackwood turns out to be much different than W.B. expected, and soon, relationships change and unexpected alliances form as they flounder through one outrageous event after another.
I absolutely flew through this novel, and not only because of its length—with nonstop action, there was not a single moment that dragged along. The readability as well as the weirdness of this story are really what pulled me in. There is a twinge of childishness to it, which is to be expected from a middle grade novel, but personally as an adult, this did not deter me in any way.
Bower’s characters were a fantastic part of this novel. W.B. was loveably dorky and clumsy, and someone you can’t help but root for. His parents are welcoming and kindhearted, and unabashedly goofy, but also highly intelligent scientists. Rose Blackwood was easily the most complex and interesting character in the whole story—and she has quite a bit in common with W.B. They both feel like outcasts in their own lives, in their families, and are struggling to assimilate. But along the way, they both learn their significance and where they fit in the world, as well as how to love themselves, faults and all.
This novel felt very jumbled, which many times negatively impacts a story—however, in this case, that was not necessarily true. Each individual event that occurs all come together in one nonsensical escapade—and honestly, it works, at least it did in my experience. It adds to the craziness and quirkiness of the characters and how they handle the obstacles that are thrown their way. Much of the humor comes from this element of as well—from both how utterly random and out-of-the-blue every event is, to how the characters flounder around on their way through each stage of the challenge.
This is a novel that readers will only enjoy if they suspend their disbelief and just immerse themselves in the unique world of W.B. and his gang. There are parts that become a bit repetitive, and certain scenes feel like they are rushed through much too quickly, but these are really just signs of the genre and length of the novel. That is one of the reasons I found this to be one of those middle grade books that is going to primarily garner a younger following rather than a much more universal one.
As for the actual writing itself, I really liked Bower’s style. His writing flowed very well and carried the story along at a fast yet easy to follow pace. Bower’s humor was wonderful and absolutely perfect for a middle grade novel. There is a very child-like feel to this story overall that makes it, as I said, something that is a bit less of a multi-generational read than some other middle grade stories.
This primarily focuses on being a novel for a younger audience. However, I do think that it can be fun for both children and those who are children at heart. It is a novel that anyone of any age can fall right in to and love every second of. With plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and heartwarming relationships, it’s hard not to become invested in the lives and escapades of these characters.
It is a big-hearted story of learning to accept both who you and the people in your life are. It is about learning to hold your own, be happy with yourself—inside and out—and finding out where you fit into the great puzzle that is life. Though the eccentricity of the plot might not strike the right chord with everyone, I would wholeheartedly recommend giving this story a try....more