Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Book Review: Such a Pretty Girl

By Sara Steven

Award-winning author T. Greenwood explores the often-flickering line between woman and girl in this vividly lyrical drama alternating between an West Village artists community in 1970s New York and present day, as a former child actress is forced to confront the darkest secrets of her youth when a controversial photo taken of her as a preteen on the night of the 1977 blackout ignites a media firestorm.

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. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Oh, wow. Talk about Mommy issues. Having dealt with my own when it comes to my own mother, I could totally relate to how Ryan felt when she reflects on the life she’d lived with her own mother, Fiona–a woman who had wanted to become a famous actress and model herself, then later imposes her own dreams and aspirations on her daughter, Ryan. While it never got as intense as Mommy Dearest, there were plenty of moments that felt tough to read, due to the constant pushing and prodding by Fiona. What lengths would one go to, in order to secure fame? 

Such A Pretty Girl focuses on a photograph that is found in the possession of a well-known pedophile and child sex trafficker–but it’s more about the steps that led to that eventual revelation. Ryan takes us through her turbulent past and the obvious divide between the hellish events she’d gone through then, versus her harsh need to provide calm and serenity in the present, not only for herself but for her own daughter. I know what that feels like to want to do the best for my own children, so much of that based on the kind of life I’d experienced as a child, never wanting my boys to experience that. Ryan is doing the same thing, so when her past and present collide, it’s nothing short of traumatic and scary. 

There are plenty of controversial topics here: Sex trafficking. Pedophilia. Even the means in which the photo had been taken speaks volumes on what seemed to fly in the 70s, and what would never fly today. I think the author did a great job in showing that difference, which added even more to the stark contrast with how Ryan feels about her mother, and whether their relationship can withstand the past. It was reflective and pushed boundaries, worthy of the five-stars I’ve given it!

Thanks to Booksparks for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by T. Greenwood:

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