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Friday, March 11, 2016

Book review: Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

I think the title and cover (mostly the cover) do this book a disservice. I had assumed it was about an older woman (probably a widow) who had lost her mojo and found it again, and romance, through ballroom dancing lessons, or something else cheesy like that. That's not the kind of book this is at all. If a good friend hadn't read it and liked it, I'll bet I never would have gotten to it. I also don't like the tagline about lying which really isn't as pervasive as the book implies. All the lying is about one thing.

Molly is nearly 40 and after a lost pregnancy and hysterectomy, she and her husband are going through the adoption process. It's very hard for her because she herself is adopted in an open process (which is also what she and Aidan are pursuing) and not only has she never told her husband this, but she's never told him much at all about her background, including lying that her mother is dead so she wouldn't have to discuss it.

Then we flash back to when Molly is fourteen. But these parts aren't memories for the adult Molly--they are very obviously from the perspective of a naive fourteen-year-old (which was done very well). She lives in North Carolina, on family property with her two sets of aunts and uncles and her grandmother all on the same property. And her birth mother.

Being fourteen, that summer (1990) was all about New Kids on the Block and Johnny Depp to Molly. She makes a new friend, Stacy, who is more of a "fast" girl and whose boyfriend introduces Molly to a high school senior that she quickly becomes infatuated with. Meanwhile, she spends the summer helping her father write his latest book, which he needs because MS has been ravaging his body and he now only has control of his head. Molly types as he dictates. He's a therapist and he developed a new therapeutic technique based on pretending (hence the book's title). He can still practice which is convenient, although he does have a full-time live-in helper. The big secret, which fourteen-year-old Molly is blind to, is pretty obvious to the reader (at least to this reader) from early on and wasn't a shock at all. And while I do understand her upset at that age over what happened, I do not understand why in the past 25 years, she hasn't come to some kind of adult understanding of the situation. And why it's so horrible to hide it from her husband, who seems really nice and understanding (in fact those seem to be his only personality traits. He isn't in the book much.) Even though the book starts and ends in the present, about 80% of it is in the past. I wish I'd gotten more of a feel for the era (I was sixteen that summer, so pretty close in age to Molly, but it seemed like there were those two cultural references to 1990 and that's it. In fact at two points the electric slide was mentioned as a popular dance of the time and that's from the 1970s. I wonder if the author had it confused with the line dance that was done to REM's "Stand" that was popular that summer.) It also didn't feel very Southern to me. While Molly lives in San Diego now, the majority of the book takes place in Swannanoa, North Carolina, but to me, it could have been in Vermont and Michigan and nothing would have needed changing.

Still, despite these flaws, the book was an easy read with the plot moving along convincingly, and an excellent voice of a young teen who is not quite ready to grow up as fast as she ends up having to do that summer. It's an enjoyable, light coming-of-age story masquerading as a serious, literary novel of secrets.

I bought this book from Park Road Books at Bibliofeast.

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