Cara Hoffman has written an intriguing, tangled puzzle of a novel that defies categorization, and the excitement surrounding it is contagious. It seems like every day for the last two weeks I have seen a different tweet, article, or rave for this book. It landed on Entertainment Weekly‘s Must List, and is today’s #fridayreads giveaway on Twitter. Most major review sources have made special note of it, including Publishers Weekly, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, and The Boston Globe.
Although this may not be an easy read for teens, it does have the potential for great appeal to tenacious readers. And there is a teenaged girl at its heart.
Adult/High School–Puzzle drama has been a very successful formula for television shows like Lost and Fringe, which depend on discretely embedded clues to make sense of confusing narratives that are often entangled with multiple perspectives. Readers familiar with such shows will be comfortable with the obscure and seemingly disjointed revelations in So Much Pretty, which begins simply enough with a missing person. Although 15-year-old Alice Piper is missing, she is not the brutally murdered young woman whose body is found at the outskirts of her upstate New York hometown. Stacy Flynn, an investigative reporter who has moved to Haeden from Cleveland applies her big-city sensibility to clues she hopes will solve the murder that locals seem too ready to blame on a drifter. But that is not the murder she clears up. There is another horrific crime that shocks Haeden, and Flynn learns who is responsible. First-time author Hoffman arrays several voices from across decades to form a kaleidoscope of clues and insights that eventually, but barely, reveal the mystery behind the murders. They also hint at a greater mystery–how each of us is blinded by self-delusion and denial to a degree that inevitably, and sometimes horribly, corrupts with righteousness our best attempt to make moral choices. As haunting and disturbing as Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones (Little Brown, 2002), So Much Pretty will be equally provocative and unforgettable for teen readers, especially those who love solving a good puzzle.–John Sexton, formerly at Westchester Library System, NY