Trigger warnings: rape, sexual violence, ptsd, anxiety, depression
April hates men. She has completely given up on them after far too many traumatic experiences and horrific violations from the men she’s offered her heart to over the years. She can’t take any more, and to make matters worse her job working at a charity largely centres on helping victims of sexual assault, something which triggers her every single day. April finally reaches breaking point, and decides to adopt an uber-cool and effortlessly sexy alter ego named Gretel to catfish a man and break his heart just like so many men have broken hers. But things get complicated when April realises the lies she’s telling may have an even more devastating effects than she previously anticipated…
Before I launch into this review I want to make it explicitly clear how triggering this book may be for victims of sexual violence. Though Holly Bourne tackles some extremely serious issues with great sensitivity, I was frankly astounded that the audiobook didn’t begin with a trigger warning (something I believe it desperately needs considering its content and wish it had included).
There was so much I loved about this book. I loved the feminist message it sent. I loved how it articulated the fears and anxieties I have felt so many times around men, yet have never been able to put into words myself. I loved how brave April was, more powerful and courageous and kind than she ever realised, seizing on that courage every morning just to get up and face the day. I loved the cast of supporting characters, the dry and sarcastic humour, and how sensitively Holly Bourne explored the nuances and depths of April’s pain. That being said, I did find many things about it deeply frustrating too, particularly the web of lies April was spinning to Joshua throughout; you really do have to suspend realism a bit whilst reading.
Holly Bourne’s books tend to follow somewhat of a theme and the more I read them, the more I’m finding that once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. This one felt particularly similar to her YA book The Places I’ve Cried In Public, which is essentially a very similar story but more accessible for a younger audience. Despite these similarities, however, I appreciated how she was able to explore the depths of trauma a little deeper in Pretending than she was in her previous novels with it being aimed at a more mature audience.
The audiobook is expertly narrated by Heather Long, who really did the story justice and brought it to life perfectly. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I believe I enjoyed Pretending more as an audiobook more than I would have if I’d read a physical copy. It wasn’t the light escapist rom-com I expected it to be, but there is a lot in this book that makes it worth reading. I rated it four stars on Goodreads, but I am unsure how many more of Holly Bourne’s books I will go on to read… perhaps three is enough for me.