Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Publication date: October 6, 2015

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Publisher's description:

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?

My review (first shared August 7, 2015):

Oh, the tears! Do yourself a favor and have a tissue close by. What a compelling book - so many emotions, so much hurt over so many years with a beautiful, beautiful conclusion. Pretending to Dance is told in first person from the perspective of Molly - Molly both as a 38-year-old attorney who seemingly has it all together and a 14-year-old girl in the worst summer of her life.

Modern-day Molly and her husband Aidan have it all together and are living an active, fulfilled life - or so it seems. After having a tragic miscarriage that leaves her unable to have children, they are pursuing an open adoption. Aidan comes from a deeply loving family while Molly has no living parents - or at least that is what she has told Aidan. But as Molly comes to terms with all the emotions surrounding adopting a child, she finds that she must also come to terms with her past.

We visit Molly’s past through the eyes of a 14-year-old on the cusp of young womanhood. She sits between the little girl world of boy band crushes and the all-too-real world of older boys and dangerously foolhardy friends. She is a devoted daughter to her father, a brilliant therapist who is rapidly losing the fight to MS. Molly is, through and through, a Daddy’s Girl and, as such, is not close to her mother, Nora. Tragedy strikes that fateful summer and Molly always blames Nora.

The tale is woven beautifully. Ms. Chamberlain takes the reader to the idyllic Swannanoa Mountains in Western North Carolina to the homestead of Molly’s extended family. Your heart aches for Molly. Even in the mistakes made by a young teen, the ones you can see coming from a mile away as the reader takes it in with an adult eye and adult knowledge, will leave you aching for this woman and the pain that she’s going through. The story centers a lot on adoption and all the myriad emotions that go along with it. It also delves deeply into the death of a beloved parent and the challenges an end-stage illness brings to everyone in a family. There is some relatively graphic sexual content (in scenes with the aforementioned “older boy”) that make this an adult book. All of these deeply emotional situations were woven together into a masterful story with a gratifyingly redemptive ending. Ms. Chamberlain’s writing swept me away into Molly’s world and had me wishing I could just give her a much-needed hug - both scared and lonely teenaged Molly and scared and worried adult Molly.

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