Review: Pretending

There was a 50/50 chance I was going to love Holly Bourne's new adult offering Pretending.  I read one of her YA books, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting and found it to be quite problematic but I read her first adult novel How Do You Like Me Now? and though it was fantastic. Pretending could have gone either way.

Pretending, published in April, is about April - nope, not a typo, just a weird looking sentence. April is looking for love, but she can't get past date 5 before whoever it is she's dating turning out to be an asshat. Turns out that guys don't want a girl like April. They want a Gretel - perfect pretty sexy girl-next-door Gretel with ho hang ups and no insecurities and here just for a good time. April decides to become Gretel. Like, actually, she sets up a fake dating profile and goes all in pretending to be a person she's not. Dating is much more fun as Gretel - especially once she meets Joshua. But can she keep up the pretence?

I loved it. I feel like I should say at this juncture though that this book deals heavily with issues of rape and sexual assault - in case that's a trigger for you.

I couldn't put it down and whilst it didn't get under my skin in the same way How Do You Like Me Now did  - that book could have been written for me and about me I swear - I did find it to be timely and relevant and important and very very readable.

Holly Bourne writes like she's in your head - she gets it, what it's like to be a woman right now / to be in love / to be not in love / to be dating / to have a best friend / to not know what you're doing with your life. She writes it all like she gets it and its nice to read books like that - that make you feel seen and give you that 'oh me too' feeling. It's full of wry and often harsh truths about what it's like to be a woman (generally, not just on the dating scene) and whilst I didn't personally relate to this one as much, I can still totally see how people will, how it will become a book they hold aloft and say, 'this, yes, this is what I have been trying to say.'

It's a funny book in parts - darkly funny but funny nonetheless - but it's serious too. April is recovering from a trauma and that whole story line, which is a major theme throughout the book, is sensitively and intelligently done, and never used as a mechanism for driving the story forward or for kicks. it's a story that matters and it as handled as such. It teaches self acceptance and is bursting with themes of abuse and PTSD and recovery and stereotypes and cat fishing and gas-lighting and friendship and it handles all of them pretty well and it says a lot abut Bourne's writing that whilst I didn't always like April and I certainly didn't understand some of her choices, I never stopped rooting for her.

April works at a charity that deals with anything from people asking if they can get pregnant from a toilet seat to genuine appeals from rape victims and sometimes their perpetrators and I loved that side to the story. I found it so so interesting and watching how April handled that side of her life along side the aftermath of her own sexual assault was so clever - and so so moving.

I do wish the background characters were a little more developed; April is so whole and complex and real that everybody else felt flat and that's a shame because this book could have been so much richer if those other characters had been deeper but overall this book ticked a lot of boxes for me. Holly Bourne is now on the 'yes I  like her' list rather than the 'hit or miss.'