Pretty Baby is a recently published psychological thriller by an author that wrote one of my other favorite thrillers, The Good Girl. I had high hopes with this one. The story is set in Chicago (my home town) and has been called thrilling, illuminating, and a hypnotic psychological thriller. Sadly, I felt like this one missed the mark.
The main character, Heidi, is what one would call a bleeding heart. She works in social services and puts her clients' needs before her own and before her own family's. So when Heidi sees a very young mother and her 4 month old baby standing in the rain on a train platform, she can't help but notice them. She runs into them on a couple of occasions and realizes that the girl, Willow, and her baby have nowhere to live. Doing (what I would see as) the unimaginable, she brings the two home. She buys diapers, feeds the baby, and does her best to help Willow on her feet. Amazon tells me that "what starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into something far more twisted..." but I found the book to be much more sad than twisted.
We find out that Willow comes from a very broken home and that she did what she felt she had to do with the baby to get herself out of a bad situation. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, including Heidi's and Willows. Generally, I like this format.... but I don't think any of the viewpoints were particularly well done. First, I did not like Willow's tone. Yes, she came from a rural area and had a traumatic childhood and might not be the most educated teenager, but the ain'ts and poor grammar made it hard to read. Worse, despite being in Chicago for only a short time, her voice goes from very country to city in a manner of weeks. I know we were supposed to empathize with Willow and Heidi. Willow came from a terrible situation (one that borders on unrealistic) and Heidi has experienced the loss of a child. They've both had their share of tragedy but I didn't find anything about their stories thrilling or otherwise gripping. They were sad. And, as much as it pains me to say it because I don't like "should'ing" on another person, I expected a woman like Heidi who comes from so much privilege to see the writing on the wall and take care of herself. She obviously has the resources to do so. The ending.... came quickly. Mercifully. And seemed to be wrapped up in a neat package. I figured out what would happen roughly halfway through, and I'm not one who tries for that. I will stick with Mary Kubica as a writer, because I really did find The Good Girl a 5 out of 5 read. That said, I don't recommend this one. There are so many good thrillers out there with better writing and stronger characters (I just finished All the Ugly and Wonderful Things... and oh, my was that darkness done right). I wouldn't waste my time here. I still will read her other novel, Don't You Cry, and hope that it's more Good Girl than Pretty Baby.
Bonus points for the cover art, though. I really like these!