Such a Pretty Smile

St. Martin’s. Jan. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781250274212. $27.99. HORROR
What is scarier, sexism in mental health care or an actual monster? DeMeester’s (Beneath) empowering, engaging, and intense supernatural thriller seeks an answer through alternating time lines and brisk pacing. In 2019, 13-year-old Lila is dealing with an overprotective mother, an unrequited crush on her best friend, and the murders of several local teen girls. In 2004, Caroline (Lila’s mother) is a young adult, facing an eerily similar serial killer who sets off a series of events that destroy Caroline’s marriage, earn her critical acclaim for her grotesque sculptures, and inspire her to get treatment for mental illness. The unease is thick, pressing down on readers. Lila and Caroline intimately spill their dark secrets on the page but struggle to share these supernatural experiences and disturbing realizations with other people, for fear of stigmatization. As events in both timelines spin out of control, past and present collide in an epic showdown that will leave readers looking over their shoulders.
VERDICT An obvious choice for fans of female-driven psychological horror (e.g., Sarah Pinborough’s Cross Her Heart and Rachel Harrison’s The Return). Also a good suggestion for readers who want to explore the trauma and inequalities in mental health treatment (like in Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver).
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