Women's Fiction Book Reviews

Pretending to Dance

I had to give myself time after finishing this book because it left me feeling emotionally raw. I wanted to rate and review immediately after finishing as I typically do but I just couldn’t get started. Pretending to Dance is a difficult book to talk about because it deals with some dark topics. Before I get started though, I will say that this book is egregiously mislabeled as a psychological thriller. It’s more of a coming of age novel blended with family saga with a hint of mystery, I don’t know where they got the thriller label from.

With that out of the way, I’m a little divided about the set up for this book. It’s two different stories that are told side by side over the course of the novel: Molly as an adult looking to adopt a child with her husband, and Molly as a teenager testing her wings and beginning to see the cracks in her family. The book is more teen drama than anything else, so prospective readers should be prepared for that.

I had to smile a little bit at how convincing Molly’s teen years in the 90s was, before the convenience of cell phones or widespread access to the internet. Molly’s friend Stacy quite frankly reminded me of my best friend when I was that age, I was amazed with how much I could relate to the main character, the pressure she feels to act more grown up than she is. Over the course of the novel Molly matures greatly, leaving her tween idol obsession behind as she rebels against family and follows peers that aren’t all that good for her.

“I remember my father telling me that if you don’t forgive someone, it’s like trying to dance with a lead weight on your shoulders. That’s how I feel. The lead weight still holds me down.”

In the background is Molly’s unconventional family that lives on a massive plot of privately owned land in which most of her extended family all lives there together. Molly’s father is a brilliant psychologist that suffers from multiple sclerosis and is almost completely disabled. One of the things I appreciated most about this book is how delicately it explores disability, depression, and suffering. Molly is a good daughter that cares deeply for her father, but doesn’t always notice or understand what he’s going through given her age and other distractions.

I honestly felt like the present day story line with adult Molly was incredibly weak, though it did provide a great deal of insight into the adoption process and the anxieties that both adopting couples and birth mothers face. It’s a good story, and the two halves do eventually come together, but the difference between the two story lines was too great.

Pretending to Dance is a startlingly honest novel about family, the complexities of adoption and what it means to be a mother, about disability and suffering, about growing up and learning to see the bigger picture, to recognize what’s really happening around you. This book is an emotional roller coaster and hits on some incredibly heavy topics that are highly controversial and difficult to discuss. I enjoyed this book a great deal but I feel that the attempt at a mystery thriller and two drastically different story lines keep this book from being a perfect read. Still a great book for readers that like family dramas.

Title: Pretending to Dance
Series: The Dance #1
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Molly Arnette is very good at keeping secrets. She and her husband live in San Diego, where they hope to soon adopt a baby. But the process terrifies her.

As the questions and background checks come one after another, Molly worries that the truth she’s kept hidden about her North Carolina childhood will rise to the surface and destroy not only her chance at adoption, but her marriage as well. She ran away from her family twenty years ago after a shocking event left her devastated and distrustful of those she loved: Her mother, the woman who raised her and who Molly says is dead but is very much alive. Her birth mother, whose mysterious presence raised so many issues. The father she adored, whose death sent her running from the small community of Morrison Ridge.

Now, as she tries to find a way to make peace with her past and embrace a future filled with promise, she discovers that even she doesn’t know the truth of what happened in her family of pretenders.

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  1. I feel like if there is controversial topics it quickly gets placed as “thriller” anymore.

    1. Yeah sometimes, I’ve seen some literary fiction novels that have very controversial topics and it works out, since literary fiction is kind of an “any” sort of category. Mystery and Thriller have become almost synonymous with each other, and all you need is one person to be keeping some sort of a secret and BAM it’s a mystery. It’s a shame since a lot of books get mislabeled this way, and that’s what disappoints a lot of readers. You can have a book that is a thriller but not a mystery and vice versa, they’re such different genres especially psychological thrillers.

  2. Liz

    I’m skipping most of your review because I want to read this without spoilers. XD (I did read up to the mislabeling of the psych thriller, though, then everything after the review paragraphs.) In the warnings, I noticed it pertains to depression and suicide, and…I’ve noticed books being categorized as psych thrillers based on mental things alone—which baffles me, because I associate it more with mind-fuckery. The whole point of them is to play tricks and mess with your head.

    But I love the cover, even if it hasn’t anything to do with dance. :p

    1. Not a problem, I tried to keep the review mostly spoiler free but looked it over and edited out a few lines that could be a little revealing.

      I’m with you on what I consider to be a psych thriller, I typically expect those to have unreliable narrators and a little more thinking. Plus, I didn’t even find this book to be all that “thrilling.” It reminded me more of a Judy Blume novel than a traditional thriller.

      I love the cover as well and think it’s pretty! The title will make sense after reading. 🙂 I was scratching my head when I first started but was sobbing when it hit me what the title meant in relation to the story.

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