Review: Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

making prettyMontana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she’s stepping into the most intense summer of her life.

With Arizona wrapped up in her college world and their father distracted by yet another divorce, Montana’s been immersing herself in an intoxicating new friendship with a girl from her acting class. Karissa is bold, imperfectly beautiful, and unafraid of being vulnerable. She’s everything Montana would like to become. But the friendship with Karissa is driving a wedge between Montana and her sister, and the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa’s someone she can really trust.

In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a heady distraction in Bernardo. He’s serious and spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?

This was a fairly compelling contemporary read, that deals with a multitude of issues – the headiness of first love; the battlelines of family dramas; forming your own identity in the midst of the craziness that surrounds you. But it’s also filled with drunken characters who make some really irrational decisions in rather dysfunctional situations.

I really empathised with the depiction of our MC, Montana, as she struggles to fit back into the comfortable groove with her sister, Arizona, and their best friend, Roxanne, when the two return from college for the summer holiday. Montana, two years younger, is suddenly out of place with their new identities, in-jokes and college experiences.

However, Montana meets manic pixie dream girl Karissa, who’s crazy, and crazy cool; mysterious and real; who makes Montana feel special, part of the in-crowd, and offers the friendship and validation she so desperately needs. However, Karissa also has her secrets, and the plot twist – if you can call it that – which comes around a quarter of the way through the novel, reveals her betrayal of Montana’s friendship, and a less than stellar glimpse of her true character.

The sisters also have to deal with their dad’s revolving door of wives and girlfriends, who never stay for long. The author perfectly illustrates the push-pull, love-hate relationship we have with people who are family, who have their good points and whom we are obliged to love, but who also do some extremely inconsiderate, unthinkable things – which makes it very hard for Montana to reconcile the two opposites.

What I liked about Montana is her examination of her feelings. For example, she knows she’s falling in love fast and hard, but she also knows that it’s moving too fast, and how it must look to those around her. She has some uncharitable feelings towards her boyfriend’s ex, but asks him about her without badmouthing her and gets him to talk about his past relationship so that he can get it all off his chest. While conflicted about Karissa and angry about what has happened, she still treats her well with the memory of the honeymoon stage of their friendship.

Sure, our MC is not perfect. I wished she would stand up for herself more, and shout out her feelings at the people who try to use her as a pawn in the family/friend dramas. I definitely didn’t like how extreme things got in her relationship with boyfriend Bernado – I just wanted to shake them and tell them to stop being young and in love and stupid.  I wanted her to stop being a feeling-chameleon and decide for herself what she thinks and feels.

But I enjoyed her contemplativeness, and the quandaries she finds herself in, and that feeling of falling hard and fast in a New York summer that the author so perfectly captures.

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. 

Rating: 6/10

Hannah is a twenty-something born and bred Capetonian who adores reading and reviewing books, and encouraging critical discussion on all things pop culture. Currently a politics graduate student, she spent two years working in digital marketing before deciding she missed the student life. Loves QI, travel, dark chocolate, fantasy & YA books, pilates and sarcasm.