Book Review: ‘Pretending to Be Erica’ by Michelle Painchaud

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Erica Silverman was abducted at the age of four. She was snatched outside of her kindergarten and never seen again. Violet was adopted by her con artist father for a single purpose: to become the long-lost heiress of the mythical Silverman painting. Violet has only ever been groomed for this moment. But what Violet doesn’t count on is how much she comes to care about the Silvermans, as well as the friends she’s made under false pretense. Walking a razor’s edge, calculating every decision, not sure sometimes who she is or what she is doing it for, Violet is an unforgettable heroine.

Violet has been raised ever since she was adopted to one day become Erica Silverman. Erica disappeared when she was four years old in the thirty seconds that school security took their eyes off of her. Ever since, the Silverman family has been searching for any sign of their missing daughter and struggling in the process. The stress of Erica’s disappearance causes Mr. Silverman’s bipolar disorder take over to the point that he is placed in a mental hospital. Two other fake Ericas have shown up over the years looking for a life of comfort, shattering Mrs. Silverman’s heart every time they’ve been discovered. But Violet passes the test with a sneakily obtained DNA sample and begins to work her way into the Silverman life. She quickly makes friends with Merril and Cassie, both of whom Erica knew in preschool, and Taylor and James, the more “alternative” crowd. As Violet gets further into Erica’s head and the con she is supposed to be completing, she begins to struggle with how she can get the painting without hurting people she’s come to care about, whether or not it’s really worth it, and what the line is between Violet and Erica.

Pretending to Be Erica is a carefully crafted story that kept me interested and guessing the entire time, with an unexpected yet realistic ending. Violet is an intriguing main character; she is very well trained at being a con artist, yet still has the moral sense to feel that maybe what she’s doing is wrong. I really enjoyed that we saw her battle between who Violet is versus who “Erica” was. It made Violet relatable, even as she was taking part in a very cruel con. Her struggle with self-identity and wanting to be loved is something that everyone struggles with at some point, and this enables the reader to connect with and really feel for Violet. Taylor and James played a huge role in making this an enjoyable read. The daughter of a mob lawyer, Taylor is sassy, somewhat intimidating, and says what she thinks, no matter the consequence. On the other hand, James is the quiet musician who becomes “Erica’s” (and Violet’s) first love interest. Even with the romantic storyline worked in, it didn’t overpower the importance of the friendships found with Taylor, Merril, and Cassie. I really appreciated the well-written and well-developed characters. Each character was very distinctive and easy to identify. They all felt like real people I could have run into at my own school. Mrs. Silveman broke my heart many times throughout the book; I think the thing I felt worst about the whole time was the fact that she was being tricked. Violet was so good at pretending to be Erica (no pun intended!) that she had Mrs. Silverman fooled, yet somehow formed a bond with her. I know that’s natural empathy to feel, but it was still really hard to know that she would never really get her daughter back, even though she got a chance to be a mother for a short while.

The potential for being an unrealistic story is definitely there, but Michelle Painchaud keeps Pretending to Be Erica as probable as possible. Violet is accused of being a fake Erica, including by some who get dangerously close to revealing the truth, and the fact that she wasn’t just able to get away with it no-questions-asked was one aspect that kept it believable. While I don’t want to give the ending away, I think it was fitting and certainly not what I saw coming. I was expecting the typical “happy ending,” with everything somehow working out for everyone, but it definitely sends the real-life message that there are consequences for every decision made.

Pretending to Be Erica reminded me of Ally Carter’s Heist Society mixed with The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I definitely recommend it, especially to those who enjoy mysteries. Pretending to Be Erica was a captivating novel that kept me interested and emotionally invested the whole time.

Rating: 9/10

And check out our interview with the author, Michelle Painchaud, here to learn a little more about Pretending to Be Erica!

Lauren is a 20-year-old student living in Northern Virginia. She loves to read YA books and watch movies. Lauren is passionate about many things, but reading has always been a huge part of her life. Ever since she first learned to read, her parents have always had to pry books out of her hands when it’s time for other commitments. Lauren loves everything from The Hunger Games and Divergent, to Percy Jackson, mysteries like State of the Onion, and other YA books, like The Fault in Our Stars, and is always eager to try a new book, author, or series. She also loves music, public health, Harry Potter, and the Washington Capitals. Follow her on Twitter: @LWengrovitz.