Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Date of publication: January 18th, 2022
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Mystery, Fantasy, Supernatural, Feminism
A biting novel from an electrifying new voice, Such a Pretty Smile is a heart-stopping tour-de-force about powerful women, angry men, and all the ways in which girls fight against the forces that try to silence them.
There’s something out there that’s killing. Known only as The Cur, he leaves no traces, save for the torn bodies of girls, on the verge of becoming women, who are known as trouble-makers; those who refuse to conform, to know their place. Girls who don’t know when to shut up.
2019: Thirteen-year-old Lila Sawyer has secrets she can’t share with anyone. Not the school psychologist she’s seeing. Not her father, who has a new wife, and a new baby. And not her mother—the infamous Caroline Sawyer, a unique artist whose eerie sculptures, made from bent twigs and crimped leaves, have made her a local celebrity. But soon Lila feels haunted from within, terrorized by a delicious evil that shows her how to find her voice—until she is punished for using it.
2004: Caroline Sawyer hears dogs everywhere. Snarling, barking, teeth snapping that no one else seems to notice. At first, she blames the phantom sounds on her insomnia and her acute stress in caring for her ailing father. But then the delusions begin to take shape—both in her waking hours, and in the violent, visceral sculptures she creates while in a trance-like state. Her fiancé is convinced she needs help. Her new psychiatrist waves her “problem” away with pills. But Caroline’s past is a dark cellar, filled with repressed memories and a lurking horror that the men around her can’t understand.
As past demons become a present threat, both Caroline and Lila must chase the source of this unrelenting, oppressive power to its malignant core. Brilliantly paced, unsettling to the bone, and unapologetically fierce, Such a Pretty Smile is a powerful allegory for what it can mean to be a woman, and an untamed rallying cry for anyone ever told to sit down, shut up, and smile pretty.
There was blood in the water–a dull pink bloom–the morning Lila Sawyer heard about the first missing girl.such a pretty smile by kristi demeester
I am going to be the odd one out with this book. Why? Well, I didn’t care for it. I know (ducking rotten tomatoes and hearing boos echoing across all the platforms I post to), it is not the popular opinion. I wanted to like this book and was pretty excited to read it after all the favorable reviews. Then I read it, and it fell flat for me.
Such a Pretty Smile did have an exciting storyline. The book centers around Lila and her mother, Caroline. In the 2019 storyline, Lila is a teenager dealing with a lot in her life. Her mother has a reputation for creating creepy statues made out of materials she found on her walks. Her father is distant, focusing more on her newborn sister, born premature and with a severe health complication. She is also dealing with peer pressure, a frenemy who alternately bullies and befriends her and questions her sexuality. To top it off, Lila has heard dogs bark, and there is a voice in her head telling her to do things that she usually wouldn’t do. Meanwhile, brutalized bodies of young girls are being found around the Atlanta area.
In the 2004 timeline, Caroline is under an immense about of pressure. Her father is in hospice, and she is drowning under the bills associated with it. Caroline takes a job teaching private art lessons to a homeschooled teenager to make ends meet. But, things are happening to Caroline that she can’t understand. She hears dogs barking nonstop, and she is having delusions. When she talks to her psychiatrist about that, she gets drugged, but that doesn’t stop it. Everything comes to a head when she finds out about her past, which ties directly to the current murders.
When Lila finds out about Caroline’s past, the storylines meet and she runs back to New Orleans to investigate Jazzland. What happens will send shockwaves in everyone’s lives and change them forever.
I did feel bad for Lila. She was smothered by her mother and ignored by her father. On top of that, she dealt with bullying and figured out her sexuality. She was a pressure cooker and was about to blow. Honestly, I was surprised that she waited as long as she did to freak out on Macy, her father, and her stepmother. I did wonder (when she started hearing the dogs barking) if her stress was manifesting. But it wasn’t until she was in the car (sweating her butt off) that I understood what was happening to her was paranormal.
I also felt bad for Caroline. She had a lot on her plate in 2004. She was solely responsible for her dying father’s medical/hospice bills. She was trying to get through art school and launch her career. She had to deal with a fiance who didn’t support her in anything. So, when she started hearing dogs barking and seeing things, she figured that it was because of stress. I wish that she could have had a break in that storyline. But it went from one thing to another when her father told her that she was kidnapped when she was a child. It was then that everything amped up. Her descent into mental illness and how the male figures in her life treated her were awful.
The horror angle of Such a Pretty Smile was well written, but it didn’t do anything for me. I was waiting for some epic battle or at least The Cur getting what it deserved. It didn’t happen. Instead, there was a rail against men and how women were expected to confirm (which we are, and yes, it is unfair). I felt a little let down when the author explained everything at the end of the book. I was left feeling meh.
I did like the solid feminist stance that the book took. But, I did feel that it was a bit much in places—one of the things that made me “meh” about Such a Pretty Smile.
I did enjoy the ending and seeing how Lila ended up after the events of Jazzland. I am glad that she met with people who understood what she went through. I also wondered, with how the final paragraphs were worded, if there was going to be a sequel. Maybe The Cur will get what is coming to it.
I would recommend Such a Pretty Smile to anyone over 21. There is sex, violence, and language.