Publisher: St. Martin's Press
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. E X T R A O R D I N A R Y ! Diane Chamberlain
once again delivers a bittersweet, and compelling suspense page-turner, PRETENDING TO DANCE,
hooking you from page one to the end. Landing on my Top Booklist of 2015,
a complex exploration of family, lies, and dark secrets. 5 Stars+ “Must Read” not to be missed! “Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here, Let’s Dance!” PRETENDING TO DANCE
offers a mix of coming-of-age and humor of Judy Blume and Jennifer Weiner;
the complexity and highly charged topics of Jodi Picoult and Amy Hatvany;
the heartwarming emotions and social issues of Emilie Richards and Kristin Hannah
; combined with Chamberlain’s
own unique style and talent of creating mystery, intrigue, suspense, healing, and complex family relationships, written with compelling prose, which we have come to expect from the author’s older to her newer books--keeping fans engaged, returning, and anxiously awaiting her next.
In the prequel, THE DANCE BEGINS,
set in the mountains of North Carolina in 1982, outside Asheville in Morrison Ridge Swannanoa, a family owned idyllic compound –one hundred acres. We are introduced to the Arnette family. Graham- father, Nora-mother, and six –year- old daughter, Molly and their extended family.Graham, the father
is a remarkable man, psychologist, and author, with MS- Multiple sclerosis. His wife, Nora is a successful pharmacist, and Molly is the light of her father’s eye. They all enjoy their life on their land, a haven; and a springhouse (a special hideaway playhouse) for Molly. In order to get to the Springhouse, they have to go up the Hill from Hell, a steep incline--and Graham’s aid, Russell a God-sent, always there to help out the family with their daily lives.Even with his disabilities,
Graham has a wonderful outlook on life. He believes in Pretend Therapy
visualizing; Comfort found from the joy of literature, art, dancing, or singing, to get through any of life’s struggles. As close as he comes now to dancing is the zip line they rigged up for him- as he will never fly through the air or will never dance again. Molly loves her dad and lives to make his life as comfortable as possible--she is her father’s princess. She cannot imagine her life without him. He could lift her spirits, change the mood of a room, ease sorrow, erase fear, diffuse anger, and at times she thought of him as a magician.
In PRETENDING TO DANCE,
we jump ahead to San Diego, CA where the story is focused on Molly, an attorney, (family law) where she is now a grown woman in her late thirties, married to Aidan— they are trying to adopt a baby, unable to have one of their own. When the intense family history questions
arise, and background checks, Molly withholds the truth about her past, and fears they will surface; they could destroy not only her marriage, but her chance at adoption. Throughout the interviewing process, she struggles with deciding between open and closed adoption –can she handle the biological mother’s involvement? Molly has left her past behind.
It is a mystery. Her husband knows nothing about her past or any of her family. She pretends they are all dead. She has secrets. She has had no communication with her family since she was eighteen, over twenty years ago, when leaving NC in her rear view mirror. She still has anger and rage thinking of her past. Will her past affect her decisions for the future? She is not forthcoming in her interviewing process about her family’s history. Yet she prides herself on honesty and communication skills. Slowly, chapter by chapter,
Chamberlain skillfully weaves her magic; peeling back the layers, as we flash back and forth, from Molly in NC living at home as a teen, at age fourteen in 1990, to the present day in San Diego. Her life is a mystery and at the opening of the book-- readers have no clue what happened back in NC to drive her away, and close the doors to the childhood she loved and cherished. (You will be glued to the pages dying to find out what happened). No spoilers here. Molly will have to face her past
and make peace in order to move on and embrace her future as a wife and mother, and the only remaining link is her cousin. Dani. With decisions to make in the present day, as she meets with the adoptive mother, the past and the present connect for an explosive discovery. Fun, Fun!
Readers get to experience an overly protective native young girl embarking on an adult world, from Judy Blume’s
books (hilarious), loved reference to Forever
... a 1975 novel by Blume dealing with teenage sexuality (this age range will have some good laughs, reminded of those tumultuous teen years.) From teen crushes,
sneaking out, friends, fears, hair, clothes, makeup, image, peer pressure, concerts, pot, sex, boys, being caught in a trap, between childhood and adulthood, and an unconventional family--- all the while struggling with her father’s illness and taking the burden upon herself to protect him, pretending-- to ensure his happiness.However, her family may be protecting her,
with secrets of their own. A facade to mask what lies beneath in order to protect one another?
Loved the Highland Hospital Asheville NC (psychiatric facility/Zelda Fitzgerald) connection. Enjoyed Amalia’s bohemian free-spirted character; very different than Nora. As a NC native, always enjoy the settings, especially the mountain areas. Molly has a strong connection
with her father, more so than her mother. She assists him with typing, and accompanies him on his book tours - they share a special bond with books and music. She loves her father more than anything in the world; however, typical of any teen, she struggles with her own identity, desires freedom, and rebels against her parents’ strict rules. From her free spirited friend, Stacy (funny), to her hormones, with fantasies of Johnny Depp and New Kids on the Block, her life is a roller coaster. From teen to adult to motherhood,
from blame, secrets, lies, guilt, grief, denial; struggles, disabilities and betrayal; a painful past--the ties which bind and make a dysfunctional family real, raw, and emotional love “unalterably unique”
-- with complications, tragedies, loss, and love --setting the stage in preparation for new beginnings! Wow,
this is a compelling "meant-to-be-read" in one sitting kinda book. I was busy with work, and had to steal precious moments; finding myself drawn, dying to get back to this suspenseful saga, and at the same time it is one you want to savor, like a piece of rich dark sweet chocolate. Crossing several genres
from contemporary, coming-of-age, humor, young adult, suspense, mystery, family drama---from the young, middle age, to the older crowd – men and women, alike will devour this one! Father-daughter fans will treasure the strong bond between these two, and the heartfelt letter you will laugh and cry at the same time. Keep the Kleenex handy. A long-time devoted fan,
having read all Diane’s books, and one of my favorite authors---each book is special and unique. Not one of them is like the other. An impossible task choosing a favorite. A powerful journey, and an inspiring story.
Fans will love the well-developed characters for a book you must read. My prediction – this one will hit the NY Times Bestseller List and I see a “movie”, based on this extraordinary story, only master storyteller Diane can tell. I enjoyed the inspiration behind the book, and the connection with the author’s own family. As mentioned previously,
influenced by the author’s former career as a social worker and psychotherapist, she has keen insights reflective throughout the pages of her writing, with suspenseful stories that will touch your heart and mind.