Title: Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: A
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Molly Arnette is very good at keeping secrets. She lives in San Diego with a husband she adores, and they are trying to adopt a baby because they can’t have a child on their own. But the process of adoption brings to light many questions about Molly’s past and her family-the family she left behind in North Carolina twenty years before. The mother she says is dead but who is very much alive. The father she adored and whose death sent her running from the small community of Morrison’s Ridge. Her own birth mother whose mysterious presence in her family raised so many issues that came to a head. The summer of twenty years ago changed everything for Molly and as the past weaves together with the present story, Molly discovers that she learned to lie in the very family that taught her about pretending. If she learns the truth about her beloved father’s death, can she find peace in the present to claim the life she really wants?
Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain is a bittersweet novel of healing and forgiveness. This compelling story within a story begins in the present as lead protagonist Molly Arnette and her husband Aidan James begin the process to adopt a baby. Completing the final paperwork of her family history thrusts Molly back in time to the summer she was fourteen and the tragic events that forever changed her life. In order to move forward, Molly must face the troubling memories that continue to haunt her but will she make peace with her past before it is too late?
Molly has been estranged from most of her family for the past twenty years and she has carefully fabricated a series of lies to hide the reason why. But as she and Aidan complete the adoption paperwork, she is terrified her carefully constructed history will be revealed. After hearing unsettling news from her cousin, Molly’s disquieting memories from that pivotal summer rise to the forefront as she wrestles with her fears of agreeing to an open adoption.
The long ago summer begins on a happy note with Molly eagerly assisting her beloved father with completing his current book before embarking on a book tour. Her father, Graham, is paralyzed from the neck down due to multiple sclerosis and the two are extremely close. The once joyful summer is soon marred by family infighting but Molly’s new friendship with newcomer Stacy Bateman offers an escape from the tense situation. Stacy shakes up Molly’s rather sheltered world and introduces her to the wonders of older boys and other illicit teenage past times. As tensions increase at home, Molly’s attention is focused on the boy she has a crush on and she misses some obvious signs that portend a tragic loss that will put her at odds with the rest of family for decades to come.
In the present, Molly and Aidan continue the adoption process while she tries to sort through her ambivalent feelings about open adoption. They are cautiously optimistic that a birth mother will select them to adopt her baby and these scenes are heartwarming while at the same time, anxious, since Aidan and Molly try to protect themselves from possible heartache. Molly is startlingly intuitive about the birth mother and she offers surprising advice and words of wisdom to the young mother. However, memories of that turbulent summer continue to surface and revisiting that time in her life gives her the opportunity to re-examine them with the maturity and wisdom from an adult point of view. Her perspective shifts but Molly still remains hard and unforgiving until an unexpected loss forces her to make a decision that changes the course of her life.
Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain is a heartfelt and engaging novel that also has a bit of suspense element to the storyline. The characters are vibrantly life-like and appealing with relatable flaws and imperfections. Molly’s past and present are seamlessly woven into a captivating story that is moving and poignant. Unexpected plot twists, shocking revelations and surprising reunions bring the novel to an emotional conclusion that will touch readers’ hearts. A deeply affecting novel of reconciliation that I absolutely loved and strongly recommend to fans of contemporary women’s fiction.