Robyn Harding pushes the lines between fantasy and reality in ‘Her Pretty Face’

Title: Her Pretty Face
Author: Robyn Harding
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 352 pages
Available: 10 July 2018


“Had she been normal, she would have never committed the heinous act that she had. She had put her own parents through hell; she didn’t deserve an easy child.”

36373379Frances Metcalf is a woman whose full-time job is taking care of her son, diagnosed with ADHD and ODD. Feeling out of place, surrounded by Seattle’s Microsoft millionaires and other parents who’ve made their money in tech, Frances tries to make it through interactions with fellow private school parents by imagining ways she’d murder them. That is, until she finds a lifeline in Kate: a woman who is slim, tall, beautiful, and confident. In other words, Kate is everything Frances wishes she could be. So when Kate becomes her best friend, Frances is over the moon. Finally, she’s not alone. Finally, she has someone else in her life besides her husband and son.

The more time Frances spends with Kate, the more she becomes enamored by her. Kate’s personality emboldened Frances and motivated her to make changes in her life she hadn’t been willing to do before. Suddenly, going to Curves is starting to work for Frances. Her house is cleaner, more organized. And her usually hard-to-deal-with son is having fun, becoming independent, and making friends at his private school.

But there are cracks in this picture-perfect family. After an evening spent with Kate and her husband, Frances notices how Kate ignores her daughter, 14-year-old Daisy. It’s assumed that, while her brother will stay home, Daisy will not be around when the Metcalfs come over for dinner. Kate doesn’t even ask Daisy where she’s going or when she’ll be home — a warning flag for over-protective Frances. Didn’t Kate care about her daughter?

With chapters flashing back to the murder of a missing teenager, and the trial that follows, Harding builds tension as we try and figure out how this murder is connected to Frances or Kate. Frances feels guilty about something terrible and has fantasies about murdering stuck-up prep school parents — but are these just fantasies? And Kate, with all of her charm, makes it clear that she doesn’t want to talk about who or where she was before her family moved to Seattle.

“Frances had heard about this kind of friendship; intense, powerful, life-altering. Such friendships were unique to women, a bond as profound and meaningful as sisterhood. It wasn’t sexual, but it felt like falling in love, like she and Kate were soulmates who had finally found each other.”

I don’t know if it was the mystery surrounding the flashback chapters that drew me into this book, or how easy it was to identify with Frances and her insecurities. Her self-isolation, her humiliation of not having a “perfect” child, the self-blame for her son’s actions, her insecurity about her body — these are all pieces of a flawed person, but a real person. Kate is larger than life, the bright star in a dark sky, and the type of friend that seems too good to be true.

The two of them together create an explosion that rocks the foundation of their families, their lives, and exposes secrets they both wish had never been discovered. Secrets that made Her Pretty Face impossible for me to put down.

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