Such a Pretty Smile – Kristi DeMeester

Lila’s mother, a famous artist, keeps her past a secret from her daughter.

Tell me. Tell me about before.

Thirteen year old Lila wants more freedom but her mother refuses to give it to her.

Caroline is haunted by her past. She’s convinced that The Cur is back and wants to protect her daughter from experiencing what she has.

“There are things that I’ve seen … Things I can’t ever forget.”

Told by Lila in 2019 and Caroline in 2004, this is a story of fear, nightmares and accidental art. It’s the past intruding on the present, it’s patronising men, it’s equating being good with being safe, it’s about what happens when we refuse to be silenced.

I was interested in the relationship between this mother and daughter. I wanted to find out what had happened in Caroline’s past. Some of Caroline’s art fascinated me.

As I read about Caroline’s sculptures, I could see them. There was some repulsion attached to them due to some of their components but I could imagine myself finding treasures from nature, random leaves and branches (not some of the other objects Caroline uses), and attempting to create art from them.

I expect this will be a polarising read. I finished reading this book over a month ago and still don’t really know how I feel about it. Where this book lost me was the ending. After having me hooked until that point, I just didn’t buy the explanation. Maybe I missed something and a reread will fill in some blanks for me.

Content warnings include mental health, murdered and mutilated children, mutilated dog and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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, terrorised 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 waives 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.

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