Such a Pretty Girl by T. Greenwood
Publication Date: October 25th, 2022
Paperback. 304 pages.
About Such a Pretty Girl:
"Living peacefully in Vermont, Ryan Flannigan is shocked when a text from her oldest friend alerts her to a devastating news item. A controversial photo of her as a pre-teen has been found in the possession of a wealthy investor recently revealed as a pedophile and a sex trafficker—with an inscription to him from Ryan’s mother on the back.
Memories crowd in, providing their own distinctive pictures of her mother Fiona, an aspiring actress, and their move to the West Village in 1976. Amid the city’s gritty kaleidoscope of wealth and poverty, high art, and sleazy strip clubs, Ryan is discovered and thrust into the spotlight as a promising young actress with a woman’s face and a child’s body. Suddenly, the safety and comfort Ryan longs for is replaced by auditions, paparazzi, and the hungry eyes of men of all ages.
Forced to reexamine her childhood, Ryan begins to untangle her young fears and her mother’s ambitions, and the role each played in the fraught blackout summer of 1977. Even with her movie career long behind her, Ryan and Fiona are suddenly the object of uncomfortable speculation—and Fiona demands Ryan’s support. To put the past to rest, Ryan will need to face the painful truth of their relationship, and the night when everything changed."
Such a Pretty Girl is the thoughtful and enthralling story of Ryan Flannigan and her mother, Fiona, as they navigate both their lives and relationship with one another in 1970s New York. Fiona has always wanted to be an actress and is constantly taking auditions and looking for opportunities despite never landing any large roles. Once in New York, however, Fiona is shocked when Ryan is “discovered” at random and begins to push her into taking on the career Fiona never got.
In the present day, Ryan is living in Lost Rivers, an idyllic secluded place outside of the city, but is drawn right back into the city she grew up in when a man she from her childhood dies and she must return for the memorial. Ryan is drawn right back into everything that happened to her as a child, and she soon sees some very intense accusations about her mother have come to light about her and her career. Such a Pretty Girl deals with some very heavy topics, including many mentions of pedophilia (though nothing explicit), so please be aware of that going into this.
This is a dual timeline storyline, with some chapters taking place in the present day of 2019 and the rest taking place in the 1970s when Ryan was ten years old living with her mother in New York. I really enjoyed getting to see both of these important times in Ryan’s life, as I found it vital to see her experiences firsthand in order to understand many of her present-day thoughts and motivations. Ryan as a child was enchanting to follow and I really adored her personality. I liked how Greenwood portrayed her childlike innocence and wonder and how her later experiences in New York sort of changed that and introduced her to a world much different from the one she wanted.
I thought Greenwood did a great job of capturing the tension and toxicity that existed within this mother/daughter relationship, and specifically in Fiona’s desires and deep-seated need to become a star. The jealousy that Fiona feels when she sees her daughter getting the attention that she never got, which eventually morphs into what feels like resentment, was palpable on the page. You could see Ryan realizing that something didn’t feel quite right about how her mother treated her, but not understanding exactly what it was that was wrong about it. I think Greenwood tackles the complicated dynamic between the two really well, and how the constant uncertainty seemed to exacerbate some anxiety and panic attacks that Ryan began to have as a child. As a reader, you can really see where this anxiety comes from and how the pressure placed on Ryan affects her and her constant worries about her mom and how her mom will react to things.
I also really liked that we got to see Ryan with her own daughter in the present day and how her treatment towards her was very much molded by her own experiences with her mother–that is, to basically do the opposite of everything Fiona ever did to Ryan and to offer her unconditional love without judgment or neglect.
I really enjoyed getting to explore the 1970s setting in New York and seeing how much everything changes between then and 2019 when Ryan returns. The dual timeline is really highlights in these moments and I loved getting the dual decade comparison. And, of course, getting to explore the ‘70s in any setting and story is always entertaining, and I liked getting to be a part of all the pop culture notes and world events that are referenced, including the 1977 New York City blackout.
The pacing was consistent throughout the entire story and felt very steady at every turn in Ryan’s life. I truly didn’t want to put it down and really loved how well Greenwood’s writing flowed. It’s very simplistic in a way, but mainly in the sense that it reads easily due to the talent behind it, and there’s immense meaning on each page and with almost every sentence.
There are a lot of books out there that explore fraught mother/daughter relationships and I always find them interesting and appreciate different author’s explorations. I found T. Greenwood’s exploration is incredibly well executed and full of nuance and difficult discussions around parenting, what it means to grow up as a woman, and much more. I read this Such a Pretty Girl not long after reading Jenette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died, and I think the two work as great companion books for mother/daughter relationships that aren’t the positive view that many stories like to show. There’s a lot of food for thought in Such a Pretty Girl, from the ways Ryan is treated by her mother to the way women are treated by our society, and T. Greenwood was the perfect author to explore these. Overall, it’s four stars from me!
*I received a copy of Such a Pretty Girl courtesy of the publisher and Leilani Fitzpatrick in exchange for an honest review.*