The author of the bestselling novel The Party—lauded as “tense and riveting” by New York Times bestselling author Megan Miranda—returns with a chilling new domestic drama about two women whose deep friendship is threatened by dark, long-buried secrets.
Frances Metcalfe is struggling to stay afloat.
A stay-at-home mom whose troubled son is her full-time job, she thought that the day he got accepted into the elite Forrester Academy would be the day she started living her life. Overweight, insecure, and lonely, she is desperate to fit into Forrester’s world. But after a disturbing incident at the school leads the other children and their families to ostracize the Metcalfes, she feels more alone than ever before.
Until she meets Kate Randolph.
Kate is everything Frances is not: beautiful, wealthy, powerful, and confident. And for some reason, she’s not interested in being friends with any of the other Forrester moms—only Frances. As the two bond over their disdain of the Forrester snobs and the fierce love they have for their sons, a startling secret threatens to tear them apart…because one of these women is not who she seems. Her real name is Amber Kunik. And she’s a murderer.
In her masterful follow-up to The Party, Robyn Harding spins a web of lies, deceit, and betrayal, asking the question: Can people ever change? And even if they can, is it possible to forgive the past?
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This reading group guide for Her Pretty Faceincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book
Frances Metcalfe, a stay-at-home mom with major insecurities, is doing her best to raise her son, Marcus, but her self-criticism only intensifies following an incident involving her child at his elite school Forrester Academy. Frances is lonely, a pariah among parents—until she meets Kate Randolph. Kate is a woman who seems, by all outward appearances, to have it all, yet for reasons Frances cannot quite understand, Kate bonds with her while ignoring all of the other moms. Frances and Kate are enjoying their friendship, and their sons become closer too. But both women have been living with secrets, and one of their secrets threatens not only to destroy their friendship but also to shake up their families and send the entire community into a panic. As suspense builds, the author weaves dialogues about friendship and vulnerability, the psychology of criminals and their victims, and the long reach of the past, leaving readers to consider: How well can we really know others? How much can a person really change? When should we forgive others—and how do we learn to forgive ourselves?
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. At the beginning of the story, many of the Forrester Academy mothers keep their distance from Frances because of something her son has done. Do you agree with their behavior? Why or why not? Does their opinion of Frances ever change? If so, what causes them to change their mind?
2. How do Frances and Kate become friends? Why do you think Kate was drawn to Frances in particular? What did Frances initially think about having Kate’s attention? How would you characterize their friendship? What kinds of things did the pair bond over? How did their friendship change both of their lives?
3. The novel reveals many of the social pressures adolescents and adults commonly face. What are some of these social pressures, and what actions do the characters take as a result of the pressure to fit in? What happens as a result of these choices? Consider how the novel depicts characters who are on the fringe. Why doesn’t Daisy deny Liam’s salacious claims when she has the opportunity? Why do Frances and Kate or Marcus and Charles have difficulties fitting in?
4. What examples of friendship are presented in the book? What draws these characters together and allows them to bond? What does the book convey about the impact a friendship can have in someone’s life? Alternately, what does the book seem to suggest about the effects of a lack of friendship or intimacy?
5. Evaluate the role of judgment in the novel. Who judges whom, and what seems to influence them in the formation of these judgments? Would you say the characters make good judgments? Discuss. As a reader, how did you judge the main characters, and what caused you to come to these conclusions? Did any of your initial judgments change by the book’s conclusion?
6. Why does Kate generally avoid her daughter, Daisy? Who does Kate say her daughter reminds her of? Why is this a problem? Do you agree with this comparison? Why or why not? How does the relationship between Daisy and her mother affect Daisy’s choices and imperil her? What does Daisy seek as a result of what she feels she does not receive from her parents?
7. Consider how the novel creates a dialogue around the subject of victim shaming—the notion that some people might “deserve” or somehow be partly responsible for a crime against them. Where do we see this theme emerge? What does DJ worry about most when he sees the newspaper article about his sister’s murder? What does Kate have to say about the fate that befalls Courtney Carey? Is victim shaming still a problem today? How do you think it might be solved?
8. What examples of vulnerability are evident in the novel? Are the characters willingly vulnerable, or would you say they are put into vulnerable positions via circumstances beyond their control? What happens to the characters who are vulnerable? Does the novel present a view of vulnerability as ultimately positive or negative? Explain.
9. Although Her Pretty Face dabbles in several genres, it could be labeled a psychological thriller. How does the author create suspense as the story progresses? How did she give us insight into the inner workings of the characters? How did this influence your own feelings about those characters? How did your point of view shift as the story moved along, and how do you think the author accomplished this?
10. How does Frances react when she discovers Kate’s secret? While others around her are able to make up their mind quickly, why does Frances struggle with knowing how to respond? Were you surprised by instances where Frances defended her friend? Why or why not? What questions arise in Frances’s mind about how to handle the situation, and what does she ultimately decide to do?
11. Is Frances ever able to come to terms with her own secret? How does her life change as a result of sharing the secret? Do you think she could have done so sooner?
12. Who is David, and why is he interested in Daisy? Do you think Daisy will see him again? In Daisy’s mind what connects her and David? Who else does Daisy connect with as a result of her experiences, and what does she take from this relationship?
13. Were you surprised by the story’s conclusion? How have the Metcalfes’s lives changed? Were you surprised by Frances’s reaction when she receives the mysterious communications at the end of the story? Why or why not?
14. What examples of forgiveness appear in the book? Does the book suggest guidelines for what can or should be forgiven and what leads to forgiveness? Is there anything that cannot be forgiven? How does the book create a dialogue about self-forgiveness and reconciliation with one’s own past mistakes? Would you say it is possible for Frances or Kate to truly move on from the past?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Have a mock trial with your friends or book club. Have you ever served on a jury? How did you reach a conclusion of whether someone was innocent or guilty? If you were the prosecutor in Kate’s trial, how would you build your case? If you were Kate’s attorney, how would you have proved her innocence? If you were on the jury that was deciding Kate’s fate, how would you have determined her innocence or guilt?
2. Use the novel as a starting place to consider the issue of bullying and social pressures among adolescents. What does the novel reveal about the prevalence and culture of bullying in schools? Visit stopbullying.gov to learn more, gather resources, and begin a discussion about ways you can help to prevent and/or stop bullying in your own community.
3. Compare Her Pretty Face to other works of suspense such as Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, or Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. What do the books have in common? Do the books offer similar depictions of victimhood, criminals, and the effects and impact of crime? What common or overlapping themes do the books seem to treat? What lessons would you say readers could take from a consideration of these books collectively?
4. Read Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, a true crime book. How are the two books alike? What common themes do they deal with? What does the genre of fiction afford that is different than a nonfiction book?
Robyn Harding’s novels include The Party and Her Pretty Face, and she has written and executive produced an independent film. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband and two children.
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