All the Pretty Things by Emily Arsenault
For Ivy, summer means roller-coaster season, spinning cotton candy at the Fabuland amusement park, and hanging out with her best friend, Morgan. But this summer is different.
One morning, Morgan finds a dead body. It’s their former classmate and coworker Ethan. To make matters worse, Morgan is taken to a hospital psych ward only days later, and she’s not saying much–not even to Ivy.
The police claim that Ethan simply took a bad fall, but Ivy isn’t convinced and realizes it’s up to her to get answers. What she finds is unsettling–it’s clear that some people aren’t being honest about Ethan’s last night at Fabuland. Including Morgan. And the more secrets Ivy uncovers, the closer she gets to unraveling dark truths that will change her life forever.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED MARCH 17TH, 2020
When a book is advertised as a thriller, you would hope it would actually be thrilling.
This is the biggest problem I had while reading All the Pretty Things. Goodreads and NetGalley flaunted it as a thriller, a mystery, but from start to finish, there was little mystery at hand, and few thrills. It’s my biggest reading disappointment so far this year in large part because of this. I guessed the culprit far too early on to get any satisfaction from it, and spent the rest of the book wondering why the main character couldn’t seem to add things up until the last minute.
I’m also not thrilled with the way All the Pretty Things approached disability and sexual assault.
I’ve yet to see any reviews from disabled reviewers (if you hear of one, please let me know), but I personally found the portrayal of Ethan to be a little rocky. On the one hand, what we see of him shows that he has Down Syndrome and his own agency and his particular habits and interests. On the other hand, he’s dead from page one, and his death often feels like a plot lever, moving things along as a means to an end. It struck me as callous in some ways, especially when the main character pried into his medical history and kept asking his family for details about the night of his death.
In a similar vein, I disliked how the book handled sexual assault. It comes to have a large role as the book goes on…or maybe I should say it tried to. While it’s a pretty major thing (putting it maybe a little too lightly, a little too crudely), it was used more like a plot device. It keeps two characters apart when communicating just once would have solved almost everything, and it figures little into the ending. Even though sexual assault spurred efforts to bring the antagonist to justice, it drops off the map completely at the end. It’s not even a footnote in the conclusion. I know matters of sexual assault don’t always see justice. I know that rapists often get off lightly where justice is concerned. But I think All the Pretty Things forgot to handle the consequences altogether.
Really, only a couple things seemed to be done well.
Despite my irritation with the book overall, I think Ivy’s reluctance to see the full scope of the matter was realistic. When someone you know may have done a terrible thing, you don’t want to believe it. Even with evidence, you want to believe it’s not true. But you should also want to hold them accountable, and Ivy toes that line closer and closer over time.
I also found it entirely reasonable that the characters who were assaulted wanted multiple things. For one, seeing the character responsible actually held responsible mattered quite a bit. But they also wanted to keep their experience private, rather than put their trauma on display. I found that entirely reasonable.
Overall, it’s not a book I would recommend.
Disappointing on almost all counts, All the Pretty Things will not find itself on my shelves any time soon. It failed to meet the expectations I place on mysteries and thrillers, and it often felt clumsy or contrived. I wish it hadn’t been, because an amusement park mystery has such potential, but here we are all the same.
If you find yourself planning to read it nonetheless, it releases next week, on March 17th. I can’t say I recommend it very much at all, but ultimately, it’s up to you.
CW: loss of a loved one, suicide, underage drinking, drug overdose, sexual assault, domestic abuse