Author: Robyn Harding
Publication Date: 1 July 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
Her Pretty Face is the second novel I have read by Robyn Harding and it won’t be the last. Her writing is taut with tension and what-ifs that had me trying to piece together the puzzle from early on, and not quite getting there until the very end.
We have three narrators, two time periods in a then and now, and a complex and disturbing mystery to piece together. There is a pervasive aura of mystery over the whole story so I am very wary of what to say because I don’t want to add any spoilers.
Frances is an overweight and anxious stay-at-home mum with a troubled son. They have recently started at the prestigious Forrester Academy and that is supposed to be the answer to her prayers. She wants to fit into the elite world of Forrester but an unfortunate incident sees her further outside the circle than she ever could have imagined.
Kate Randolph is nothing like Frances, she is beautiful, wealthy, powerful and confident; and she’s not interested in the posse of power-mums at Forrester. She stands up for Frances when walking past a gaggle of gossiping mums in the schoolyard one day and the two begin to bond. They have sons the same age who have built a rapport and are becoming close friends, Charles is Marcus’s only friend.
Kate doesn’t have a voice in the novel, we only see her through the eyes of the narrators; Frances, Daisy and DJ.
Daisy is a fourteen year old girl who is feeling alone; her father is distant, her mother is indifferent and they move so often that Daisy doesn’t bother trying to make real friends anymore. She is chasing a connection; to someone, to anyone and that leads to some pretty poor choices. Daisy is Kate’s daughter.
Narrator number three is DJ, the younger brother of a fifteen year old girl who was tortured, raped, beaten and ultimately murdered in 1996. He is our THEN voice, as the younger brother and survivor of the fallout we learn about the murder of his sister and the trial that dealt with her murderers.
Harding has woven suspense into every page as we are left trying to piece together the clues that will tell us who’s who. Our leading ladies both have behaviours which lead us to believe there is baggage, there is some past trauma that they are working through but they also seem pretty realistic.
The suspense is all character-driven and there are clues to tell us there is more to all of these characters than we first see.
Daisy was the character I felt the most for, an isolated teen making risky decisions in her quest for connection in this context had me very worried for her safety. Harding explores the brutality of the middle school hierarchy and this is a time where the brutality takes a new turn as teens start exploring their sexuality and opening up more avenues of humiliation and degradation.
Lies and deceit abound in Her Pretty Face and it leaves the characters debating whether people really change. This can be a really tricky one because everyone makes mistakes and bad choices, if they have done their time and made changes to become better people is it fair to still judge them on things that happened two decades ago? If people have paid their price and done their time are they then entitled to privacy and to live out their lives under the radar? These are questions that were hotly debated and I’m not sure that there’s a black and white answer but I do kind of think that forgiving someone just to save a friendship could be a little short-sighted.
The suspense was well developed and I think the pacing was spot on. The pieces slowly came together for a cohesive ending that tied up all the loose ends and answered all my strange twists. This was an engrossing story that left me severely disturbed, especially having a fourteen year old daughter of my own.
I would recommend this one to lovers of suspenseful domestic drama and if you enjoyed The Party I think you will definitely love this one.