★★★ (3 stars)
(Very long) synopsis from Goodreads (that will probably end up being longer than my review): When she disappeared from her rural hometown, Wendy White was a sweet, family-oriented girl, a late bloomer who’d recently moved out on her own, with her first real boyfriend and a job waiting tables at the local tavern. It happens all the time—a woman goes missing, a family mourns, and the case remains unsolved. Stacy Flynn is a reporter looking for her big break. She moved east from Cleveland, a city known for its violent crime, but that’s the last thing she expected to cover in Haeden. This small, upstate New York town counts a dairy farm as its main employer and is home to families who’ve set down roots and never left—people who don’t take kindly to outsiders. Flynn is researching the environmental impact of the dairy, and the way money flows outward like the chemical runoff, eventually poisoning those who live at the edges of its reach. Five months after she disappeared, Wendy’s body is found in a ditch just off one of Haeden’s main roads. Suddenly, Flynn has a big story, but no one wants to talk to her. No one seems to think that Wendy’s killer could still be among them. A drifter, they say. Someone “not from here.” Fifteen-year-old Alice Piper is an imaginative student with a genius IQ and strong ideals. The precocious, confident girl has stood out in Haeden since the day her eccentric hippie parents moved there from New York City, seeking a better life for their only child. When Alice reads Flynn’s passionate article in the Haeden Free Press about violence against women—about the staggering number of women who are killed each day by people they know—she begins to connect the dots of Wendy’s disappearance and death, leading her to make a choice: join the rest in turning a blind eye, or risk getting involved. As Flynn and Alice separately observe the locals’ failure to acknowledge a murderer in their midst, Alice’s fate is forever entwined with Wendy’s when a second crime rocks the town to its core.
So Much Pretty has very mixed reviews on Goodreads – of my two friends who had read it one (who can often be critical) gave it four stars, the other (typically quite generous in star-giving) a measly one – and the rest of the reviews on the website were similarly split. I should warn you though, looking at the Goodreads’ page for this book provides a massive spoiler in the form of a list the book has been placed in, which ruined the plot for me and is probably partly why I feel little more than “meh, it was alright” about the book. It had a similar feel and themes to Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects – set in small-town rural America, precocious teenage girl characters, an insular community, an examination of violence against women/girls and a female reporter at the story’s helm – but was nowhere near as gripping and lacked the same level of creepiness. So Much Pretty has many different narrators and jumps about in time and location as well as between their various voices (which were just-about believably distinct from one another), which I quite enjoyed but can see for others may become tedious, though the story wouldn’t have worked as a linear narrative. What So Much Pretty does well is to comment on the roles of women, small-town life and the perils of idealism so if those are interests of yours you may find this worth reading. As a crime story alone however it was not quite original enough for me.