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So Much Prettyby Cara Hoffman
Synopses & Reviews
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 have 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.
Stylishly written, closely observed, and bracingly unexpected, So Much Pretty leads the reader into the treacherous psychology of denial, where the details of an event are already known, deeply and intuitively felt, but not yet admitted to, reconciled or revealed.
"A mixture of The Lovely Bones and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo . . . Hoffman's narrative oscillates between various characters, carefully building suspense, depth, and new insight with every chapter. Let's hope we will be seeing more of this talented new writer."Booklist
"A haunting suspense novel about a murder mystery based on a real-life missing-persons case." Entertainment Weekly, #3 on The Must List
"[A] fearless first novel... For all the passion in this intense narrative, Hoffman writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain. She also shows a mastery of her craft by developing the story over 17 years and narrating it from multiple perspectives. While each has a different take on the horrific events that no one saw coming, the people who live in this insular place remain willfully blind to their own contributions to the deeper causes that made this tragedy almost inevitable." New York Times Book Review
"A dark but powerful debut . . . Hoffman maps the atmosphere of paranoia that descends on the formerly tranquil town as she moves deftly between its inhabitants." The New Yorker (Books Pick)
"So Much Pretty is a haunting, gloomy novel that defies genre —it is one part crime thriller, one part ambitious novel, one part prose poem. . . . [The novel] raises questions about denial, violence against women and when a citizen should speak up, even if it puts another at risk." NPR.org
"So Much Pretty delivers a skillful, psychologically acute tale of how violence affects a small town . . . To say more about Hoffman's constantly surprising story is to reveal too much, but the payoff is more than worth the slow-building suspense."Los Angeles Times
Perspective is a funny thing. It can make a small farm community in upstate New York seem isolating and suffocating for one person, a liberating paradise for another. In Cara Hoffman's debut novel, So Much Pretty, this jarring disconnect is one of the story's most intriguing undercurrents. . . . the novel effectively frames a compelling murder mystery with provocative, troubling issues, exploring adolescent violence, the victimization of women, revenge, and societal pressure to favor the good of the community over the rights of the individual. . . . Hoffman ambitiously mines fertile, controversial ground and asks a lot of tough, unanswerable questions; the most heartrending is simply, Why?" The Boston Globe
"This beautiful, stealthy novel creeps up on the mesmerized reader, subtly drawing new strands into itself until what begins as the suspenseful story of a rural American murder grows into a dark, disquieting and urgently fascinating examination of the violence and concealment practiced by a whole society. . . Hoffman never surrenders the compassion, insightfulness and humor that make her a masterful navigator of the human heart. This is an impassioned, intelligent and important work of art." Chris Cleave, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Little Bee and Incendiary
"A spectacular debut: This beautifully constructed mystery, with its engaging characters and intriguing premise, has everything a reader wants."The Globe and Mail (Canada)
"In this remarkable debut, Hoffman addresses serious injustices in present-day America. . . . This searing novel will linger long in the reader's memory." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Hoffman takes on the poverty, drug abuse, environmental disasters and violence against women that are endemic to a small town in upstate New York. And she does it brilliantly, in stark and poetic prose, expressing a variety of viewpoints on the murder around which the story turns. And she does it in a way that lodges in the corner of your mind and just won't leave. . . . brilliant outsider Alice has a command of logic, a perfect memory and a sense of justice to match. She lives the philosophy that Gene and Claire's friend Michelle, a Doctors Without Borders physician, likes to quote from George Orwell: 'The responsibility of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious.' Alice just may be the blonder, less-punk version of Lisbeth Salander, that girl of the dragon tattoo. . . . Everything counts in Hoffman's toned work, as even the tiniest plot point becomes important to the unfolding narrative. The book, based on a real case that Hoffman covered when she worked for a small upstate New York newspaper, shines a harsh light on violence against women and the men who live within the ugly banality of this evil. Its climactic scenes are simultaneously shocking and inevitable. Pay attention to So Much Pretty. It's mesmerizing." New Orleans Times-Picayune<
"The way investigative reporter Hoffman navigates the line between what is spoken and unspoken, and portrays a community's desire to address any crisis but the one next door make So Much Pretty a staggering read." Huffington Post
"An extraordinarily smart and beautifully written page turner. . . . suspenseful and highly charged . . . Hoffman passionately blends the issue of violence against women that lurks unacknowledged at the dark edges of our culture with a narrative that paints a grim picture of any-town America. Hoffman’s literary voice is a force and this novel will leave you reeling." Powells.com
"Cara Hoffman has written an intriguing, tangled puzzle of a novel that defies categorization. . . . As haunting and disturbing as Alice Sebold's Lovely Bones. . . . So Much Pretty will be equally provocative and unforgettable for teen readers, especially those who love solving a good puzzle." School Library Journal
Set in a rural community steeped in silence and denial, So Much Pretty explores all parents greatest fear, that their child will be hurt. But it also examines a second, equally troubling question: What if my child hurts someone else? The disappearance and murder of nineteen-year-old Wendy White is detailed through the eyes of journalist Stacy Flynn and a host of other richly drawn characters, each with their own secrets and convictions. After Wendy's body is found, Flynn's intense crusade to expose a killer draws the attention of a precocious local girl, Alice Piper, whose story intertwines with Wendy's in a spellbinding and unexpected climax.
"So Much Pretty is a fearless first novel," announced The New York Times Book Review, "for all the passion in this intense narrative, Hoffman writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain." "This beautiful, stealthy novel creeps up on the mesmerized reader, subtly drawing new strands into itself until what begins as the suspenseful story of a rural American murder grows into a dark, disquieting, and urgently fascinating examination of the violence and concealment practiced by a whole society": so says #1 New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Cleave (author of Little Bee) about Cara Hoffman's widely acclaimed debut novel.
Set in an insular rural community steeped in silence and denial, So Much Pretty explores every parent’s greatest fear, that their child will be hurt. But it also examines a second, equally troubling question: what if my child hurts someone else? Through the eyes of journalist Stacy Flynn, Hoffman meticulously details the disappearance and murder of nineteen-year-old Wendy White. Flynn's intense crusade to expose a killer draws the attention of a precocious local girl, Alice Piper, whose story intertwines with Wendy's in a spellbinding and unexpected climax. Praised by Booklist as "a cross between The Lovely Bones and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," So Much Pretty is "a searing novel that will linger long in the reader's memory" Publishers Weekly, starred review.
About the Author
Cara Hoffman has won a New York State Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for her work on violence and adolescents and has worked as an investigative reporter covering New York State's rural and Rust Belt communities, where she reported on environmental politics and crime. She is at work on her next novel.
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