The Lily Cafe is thrilled for the opportunity to participate in the book blog tour for Pretending by Holly Bourne! Thank you to Justine Sha at Harlequin for both the opportunity and a review e-copy.
Author: Holly Bourne
Publication date: November 17, 2020
Genre: Women’s Fiction
April is kind, pretty and relatively normal—yet she can’t seem to get past date five. Every time she thinks she’s found someone to trust, they reveal themselves to be awful, leaving her heartbroken. And angry. Until she realizes that what men are really looking for is Gretel.
Gretel is perfect—beautiful but low maintenance, sweet but never clingy, sexy but not a slut. She’s your regular, everyday Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl-Next-Door with no problems.
When April starts pretending to be Gretel, dating becomes much more fun—especially once she reels in the unsuspecting Joshua. Finally, April is the one in control, but can she control her own feelings? And as she and Joshua grow closer, how long will she be able to keep pretending?
I loved the idea of this book. It sounded like fun and I thought it might be funny, too. It turned out to be very different, but I fell in love with it. It’s a heavy women’s fiction novel. It’s about a complex and complicated woman trying to strip the complexity from her in order to be the one doing the dumping. But it also deals heavily with rape and the lifelong trauma of it. This is definitely a book I’ll be ensuring my daughter and my son read when they’re older.
Serious Women’s Fiction
After being dumped by Simon after she seemingly freaks out during sex, April is angry. She hates men. She’s pretty, smart, works for a non-profit, is always there for her friends, and is, more or less, as normal as the next woman. But every man she’s dated seems to believe otherwise.
So April creates a woman in her head. The perfect woman who isn’t clingy, has an adventurous life, is always sexy and low-maintenance, and is everything April isn’t. Her name is Gretel. April decides to become her in order to attract a man and then be the one doing the dumping.
And that’s how she meets Joshua. He’s really into Gretel and things get serious fast even though April/Gretel keeps holding him at arms’ length so he does the pursuing. At the same time, bits and pieces of April leak through, and April starts to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Joshua might be different.
But there’s something holding April back. Something someone she loved did to her. Something that has a heavy impact on her work where she provides assistance to those who have been sexually traumatized. Something that breaks her so she has to build herself back up and face the truth and reality of who she is and who she could have been.
Pretending is so far from a light, fluffy women’s fiction read. It seems fun and like it might have a cute romance, but it’s so much more than that. It’s serious and knows just where to hit the reader. It’s easy to see where April has been coming from, easy to sympathize with her. At some points, I even felt like she should pretend to be Gretel and should go out breaking men’s hearts on purpose! It is, in some ways, a sweet romance, and the sweetness was even sweeter because of everything that had happened.
Pretending deals heavily with rape and the trauma women will forever carry with them from it. It’s not easy to read. It’s painful. I’ve never experienced it, so can’t comment on what it’s like, but April’s pain felt real to me. My heart broke for her and I couldn’t help but root for her as she learned to pick up the pieces of herself, to see herself as beautiful and lovable, to accept the damaged parts of herself and still see her worth.
Pretending presents two twining stories, stories that perfectly twist around each other to paint the picture of a traumatized woman who still longs for love. There’s the story of April going all in to reclaim the power in a relationship, to feel like she’s in control. Then there’s the story of April grappling with her trauma. The latter constantly intrudes on the former and the former is always trying to pin down the latter. But it never feels like a push and pull. It’s just April trying to reclaim her life.
A Couple with Plenty of Baggage
Pretending is focused around April and Joshua, though the reader does get to see some of the people around both of them. The supporting cast is lovely and each of them adds a little bit to April and Joshua as well as the story. I just wish they could have been seen more, especially Megan and the kickboxing group April joins, as they mostly just felt like a plot tool to support April despite having some wonderful personalities.
April is forever pretending. Even when she’s April she’s always pretending to be someone. Throughout the novel, though, the reader gets to see her, gets to know her, as she’s stripped down to her core. Her life has been heavily impacted from being raped. She’s complex and feels like a normal woman, but, like normal women, only thinks she’s crazy. Gretel made me cringe a little, but I did love that it takes her a step closer to being able to take control of her life, despite the price it demands.
Then there’s Joshua. Since the story is focused on April, the reader doesn’t get to become intimately familiar with Joshua, so he sometimes felt a little bland. But that’s okay because April brought tons of color so Joshua felt like a perfect counterpoint to her. He was so sweet and so eager, and was dealing with his own relationship failures that had him acting a certain way at times. The reader gets to see how honest and caring he is, but April is so busy pretending it takes her a while, but it never gave me a moment of thinking it was taking too long.
London Heat Wave
Set in London, I found it interesting that there seemed to be a rather serious and prolonged heat wave going on for most of the book. But it was a brilliant plot device. London itself wasn’t too fascinating, though the reader is taken around the city a bit. Instead it’s the general behavior of everyone that had me thinking of London.
The weather, though, really made the setting. It was wonderfully used to provide even more characterization to April. Sometimes I wonder if the weather was influencing April, but I think it was a way of commenting on what’s going on in April’s world. Because, when it rained, April is different. I felt it was done to great effect and added yet another layer to an already layered story.
Serious, Yet Beautiful
Pretending was not at all what I expected. I thought it would be a fun, quick read that would have me smiling. It was not quick. It had tears prickling my eyes. It was heavy, so it took a few days to read as I had to put it down now and then. And yet it somehow reminded me of rom-coms. It captured the neuroses women usually have when it comes to romantic relationships. It also provided a beautifully painful account of one woman’s battle with trauma from rape. There were so many layers to this story that worked wonderfully together to create a very solid, breathing story. It’s definitely a book my children will read when they’re older.
Great if you enjoy: serious women’s fiction, books about the ramifications of rape, sweet romance
Not great if you’re looking for: light, fluffy reads; fluffy romance; quick reads; strong female friendship as a focus
How many cups of tea will you need?
5 cups of tea
About Holly Bourne
Holly Bourne is a bestselling UK-based YA and Adult Fiction author and is an Ambassador for Women’s Aid. In 2019, she was an Author of the Day at the London Book Fair, and was named by Elle Magazine’s weekly podcast as one of “Six Female Authors Changing the Conversation in 2019”. Pretending is her US debut.
Follow Holly Bourne
Thank you to Justine Sha and MIRA-Harlequin for a review copy and the opportunity to take part in the book blog tour for Pretending. All opinions expressed are my own.