Review: PRETENDING TO DANCE by Diane Chamberlain

Pretending to DancePretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

St. Martins’ Press – October 2015 5 Stars

Blurb: Molly Arnette is very good at keeping secrets. She lives in San Diego with a husband she adores, and they are trying to adopt a baby because they can’t have a child on their own. But the process of adoption brings to light many questions about Molly’s past and her family–the family she left behind in North Carolina twenty years before. The mother she says is dead but who is very much alive. The father she adored and whose death sent her running from the small community of Morrison’s Ridge. Her own birth mother whose mysterious presence in her family raised so many issues that came to a head. The summer of twenty years ago changed everything for Molly and as the past weaves together with the present story, Molly discovers that she learned to lie in the very family that taught her about pretending. If she learns the truth about her beloved father’s death, can she find peace in the present to claim the life she really wants?

Review: Normally I review Young Adult and New Adult novels, so this book came as a bit of a surprise. It probably won’t interest many young tweens or teens, but older ones should enjoy this story of Molly Arnette, a woman in the midst of an adoption crisis. Successful lawyers, she and her husband really want a baby of their own and because of health reasons, adoption is their only option. However, Molly has secrets – ones that she’s hidden from everyone for more than twenty years and as everyone knows, eventually the ‘truth will out!’ even if Molly prefers to keep her past hidden.

Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of 14-year-old Molly which may make it seem as if it belongs in the young adult genre. Yet, there are just as many adult themes and a mystery that only the adult Molly can solve. The chapters flip back and forth between these two aspects of the same character, but the transitions are flawless. Some writers would have trouble detailing the concerns of a teen, then doing the switch to adulthood, but Ms. Chamberlain pulls this off beautifully. As a teen, Molly faces problems with her parents – all three of them. Nora, the adoptive mother who raises her, Amalia, the bio-mom who lives close by and Graham, the handicapped father who not only loves all the women in his life, but also manages to sustain fairly positive relationships with them.

Suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, Graham has been forced by the limitations of his disease to shut down most of his therapy practice where he uses what he calls ‘Pretend Therapy’ or Cognitive Behavioral Self-Intervention to help kids and adults. He says, “If you pretend you’re the sort of person you want to be, you will eventually become that person.” During this last summer that Molly recalls as the ‘worst of her life’ – gotta love that teen drama – he dictates his third book so she can scribe it for him. He also wants her to come with him on the book tour for his second book, the one about ‘Pretend Therapy’ for kids. Graham’s theory that ‘pretense’ can help solve problems strongly influences Molly’s life. She wants desperately to believe his health can improve, although he tells her that isn’t possible.

The characters are extremely well-drawn to the point that it became difficult to remember they were fictional. It seemed as if it would be perfectly natural to meet them in a restaurant or on the street. The setting, whether it’s San Diego, California or Morrison Ridge, North Carolina evokes strong emotions from Molly and she shares those with the reader. Molly provides wonderful descriptions and realistic dialogue as a teen and an adult add to the story. Her husband, Aidan provides amazing support as well as love, empathy and understanding for the grown Molly. He seems a bit too idealistic at times, yet this is a minor flaw in such a wonderful book. Most readers would have accepted it if he occasionally lost patience, yet women tend to fall in love with men like their fathers and Molly chose the perfect mate for herself. Her relationship with Aidan is never in jeopardy, but she needs to face the mysteries of the past in order to have a secure, loving future and that’s what I wanted for her.

The strong writing in the story kept me enthralled and I ended up rooting for Molly throughout the entire book, even if there were times when I also wanted to shake her out of a ‘dream’ state. While Pretending to Dance may not appeal to a younger audience, older readers should love it. Do keep the tissues handy – at times, the powerful writing and heartbreaking themes in this ‘coming of age’ tale may also bring other readers to tears.

Review provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the October 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.

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