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?
Some secrets, some lies are so big they take on a life of their own and there is no denying their presence. For Molly Arnette, the secret and the lie have been a part of her far longer than the reality ever was. Since she was 18 years old, Molly has told the world her parents are dead and her extended family is not a factor to be considered in her life. Part of that is true.
As an adult, Molly has had no reason to dredge up her past until she and her husband start the adoption process. Getting a child isn’t an easy process and there are a lot of questions to answer and research to be done. Molly’s past isn’t something she ever talks about and even her husband believes the lies she has told. As often happens, lies don’t stay buried forever and the deeper Molly and her husband get into the adoption process the more fiercely the past begins to put pressure on the present.
As a child, Molly couldn’t imagine living anywhere other than Morrison Ridge, North Carolina. The land her family occupies has been a part of the family for more than a century and everyone she holds dear is within a few miles of her home. Of particular importance is her father, Graham, a child psychologist known for his “pretend therapy.” Graham epitomizes everything Molly wants to be, intelligent, funny, caring, and capable in the face of adversity. For most of her life, Molly’s dad has been wheelchair bound as a result of an aggressive form of MS and though he only has the use of his neck and head at this point, he doesn’t let his immobility keep him from pushing forward. To Molly, her father is everything and though she knows the MS will eventually win, she just can’t imagine her life without him.
The summer of her fourteenth year is one of the most tumultuous of her young life and Molly finds herself constantly on the verge of boiling over. She is maturing, she has a newfound interest in boys, and, thanks to her friend, Stacey a newfound interest in experimentation and her family history. For the entirety of her life, Molly has turned to her father for everything so when she starts looking for answers about her own history, she logically turns to her father. Molly’s family believes in not keeping secrets so when she asks, her father answers every question she has with more than just a short and sweet answer. Molly’s history as well as her parent’s history is tangled and twisted with everyone having done the best they could in the face of many difficult situations.
As the summer moves forward, Molly notices the changes in her father but refuses to believe what she is seeing. To be fair, Molly is just fourteen years old and as many teenagers are, she is preoccupied with her own life, wants, and desires. The summer is filled with fun, mischief, and plenty of family time, all of which Molly is perfectly happy with. As she is trying to live her young life, her family – both immediate and extended – are embroiled in a mess that Molly simply doesn’t understand. There is an anger and tension that is permeating her home life and those emotions seem to be impacting everyone but her father who, for the first time in a very long time seems lighter and freer. As the summer comes to an end, Molly’s life is turned upside down as the anger and tension are replaced with a profound sadness, loss, and intense anger that will drive a wedge between her and everyone she loves.
The Bottom Line: Pretending to Dance is a profoundly sad read that is born out of secrets and misunderstandings that one woman has carried for the vast majority of her life. At just fourteen years old, Molly faced some of the most trying and monumental events of her young life and each changed her forever. Chamberlain splits the read between Molly’s past and present and for me, the far more interesting part of the read is Molly’s past. Molly past allowed Chamberlain to weave a tail of old hurts, loves, anger, friendship, and compassion that has consumed and shattered one family. Molly never intended to deal with her past but her current circumstances force the issue and she must face every detail that has haunted her for twenty years. Though I understand the need for the chapters related to Molly’s, they force the past to be dealt with, I found myself rushing through them in order to get back to the chapters related to Molly’s past. This read is full of individuals, both good and bad that are well developed and play such integral parts in the plot. No one and nothing is gratuitous in this read and I found myself completely incapable of putting this book down until I got to the last page. This isn’t a fun or easy (emotionally speaking) read but it is beautifully written and for those who are fans of the past meets the present and family sagas, I can safely and enthusiastically recommend Pretending to Dance.