Welcome to another edition of The Book Club! I’m thrilled to be joined by Lori at At Home: where life happens as my co-host for this endeavor. As I mentioned in my introductory post last month, we read Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica this month. If you read it and are blogging about the Book Club questions, please link up with us! We’d be honored to have you join us in our virtual club.
Pretty Baby synopsis from the book cover flap:
She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…
Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal – or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.
Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet,n but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surfact, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.
As with all posts in the Book Club, a spoiler alert is in effect.
After you’ve read my answers, don’t forget to head over to Lori’s blog and see how her take on the novel was different (or the same) as mine.
1. Both Heidi’s and Willow’s actions are fueled by their experiences with deep personal tragedy. Did you find them to be sympathetic characters? Are their offenses justified? Do you think they should be held responsible?
I found Willow to be sympathetic. Having gone through what she did – the loss of her parents at a young age, the adoption/separation from her sister, the abuse at the hands of her foster father… Yes, she was sympathetic. I ached for her. Does that make her offenses justified? Absolutely not. She kidnapped a child simply to punish the baby’s parents (who happen to be her sister’s adoptive parents) for having had the baby. There’s nothing that justifies that, and she absolutely should have been punished for that, probably more harshly than she was.
Heidi is trickier. Her descent into insanity seemed contrived to me. It wasn’t natural and was very abrupt feeling. I understand how and why she fell the way she did, but it didn’t feel like the author set it up enough in advance to make it flow with the rest of the story. Outside of being crazy (literally), I don’t know that Heidi had any offenses to be held responsible for.
2. Who do you think is most to blame for Willow’s abuse in her foster home: Joseph, the caseworker Amber Adler, or someone else? If you were in Willow’s shoes, would you have tried to do something differently to remedy the situation?
Definitely Joseph, the foster father. Ms. Amber Adler had no way of knowing that anything untoward was going on in that home, so she is 100% not to blame. Willow should have said something at some point so that someone – anyone – could have stopped the abuse. I’m not suggesting that a victim is ever to blamed for being abused, but she really should have said something during one of the caseworker’s visits. I like to think I’d have said or done something to remedy the situation if I were in Willow’s position, but being a quiet introvert, I can understand how she didn’t.
3. Who is the hero in Pretty Baby, and who is the victim? Does this change throughout the novel?
Oh, the hero and victim definitely change. In the beginning, Heidi is the clear hero: she works in a nonprofit whose main job is to help people, she adopts the cats mentioned on the book jacket (they barely make an appearance in the book), and she brings Willow and Ruby (the baby) into her home. Yes, she’s definitely a hero. By the end of the novel, she’s become a victim – to her own demons. Her past abortion (she was diagnosed with cervical cancer very early on in pregnancy; an abortion was the only chance she had to get the cancer treatment she needed) haunts her to the point of sending her to a mental institution. She kidnaps the baby she thought was Willow’s. She’s just a disaster by the end of the book.
Willow, on the other hand, starts out the victim. She’s a homeless teenager with a baby. As the novel progresses, we learn that she was victimized at the tender age of 8 by life when her parents were killed in a car accident. She was further victimized by her foster father for several years until she was able to escape that home. Heidi rescues her, but then victimizes her all over again by forcing her to leave Heidi’s home without Ruby, whom Heidi thought was Willow’s baby. As the book draws to a close, we learn that Willow’s true hero was Matthew (her foster brother), not Heidi at all. I don’t think Willow ever becomes a hero herself, but she does at least find solace in her situation and gets away from all of her abusers.
4. What do you think of Chris’s character? Is he a good husband? How does he contribute to the events that unfold in the novel? What could he have done to prevent Heidi’s downfall?
Chris is okay. Is he a good husband? Not really. Is he the worst husband ever? Definitely not. He contemplates cheating, but it says a great deal about his character that he doesn’t follow through. His participation in the events that become the novel’s climax are largely passive – he contributes simply by not having helped. I think he could have prevented Heidi’s meltdown by taking to heart what her doctor told her (which he recalled near the end of the book) about her needing psychiatric help, and not just physical care after the abortion. If he’d made sure she was taken care of mentally, she would have been able to process her feelings and might not have fallen apart the way she did.
5. Are Willow’s feelings for Matthew genuine, or a result of having no one else in her life to trust? Do you foresee a time in their lives when Willow and Matthew will reunite, or would Willow be better off making a fresh start?
There’s really no way to know whether Willow’s feelings for Matthew are real or not. I think she thinks they’re real, and that’s enough to say that yes, they are genuine. As for whether they’ll reunite, I don’t think so. In the closing chapter, Willow seems pretty stable in the group home, and as much as she loves Matthew, seeing him again would be bad for her. It could easily send her spiraling back into the blackness she was finally able to escape. Despite the fact that she wouldn’t have been able to leave without Matthew’s help, I still think she’s better off making a fresh start.
6. Are Zoe’s dramatics typical of a preteen girl, or is she herself a character on the brink of becoming unhinged? Does her own behavior contribute to Heidi’s undoing? Why or why not?
As a mom of boys, I found Zoe positively horrid. Are all 12-year-old girls like that? Because my 12-year-old boy certainly isn’t! I hope to shout her dramatics aren’t typical, but from what I’ve heard from moms of daughters, they probably are. They can be, anyway. I don’t think she’s “on the brink of becoming unhinged,” though. I think she’s just a brat. As for Zoe’s behavior contributing to Heidi’s downfall, I don’t think it did. I think her mere existence was a factor. Zoe was a constant reminder of all the children Heidi could never have. Instead of feeling blessed with the one she did have, Heidi focused more on those she didn’t have. So through no fault of her own, Zoe did cause (in part) her mother’s fall, unfortunately.
7. Heidi goes above and beyond to help Willow, a complete stranger. What would you have done in such a situation? How much are you willing to sacrifice to help someone you don’t know? How far is too far?
Our family has been in a similar situation – helping a homeless person. Not a teenager with a baby, but someone who needed a place to stay. We took this person in for one night (he was in after the kids went to bed and out before they woke up) and then provided food for him to last a couple of weeks. Four years later, this same person needed help again. He had a camper this time around, so we allowed him to camp in our driveway, hooked up to our power, for two weeks. So I can honestly say that we have helped in a similar way to Heidi. But to bring someone in to quite literally live with you for an unspecified amount of time, like Heidi did with Willow? No, I don’t think we would do that. There’s a fine line between helping and enabling, and it’s easy to cross. Most likely, we’d give the person some money or food rather than bringing them into our home long-term.
8. What do you think is the significance of the title Pretty Baby?
I wondered this very thing the whole time I was reading the novel. There are several things I can think of that might fit the title. First, Heidi and Chris’s aborted baby, Juliet (though they didn’t know the gender at the time of the abortion). She could have been the “pretty baby” because she is representative of the large family Heidi never got to have.
Or it could have been Ruby. She was quite literally the “pretty baby” in the novel, because she was the only real baby.
Finally, it could represent Heidi and Willow themselves. Each in their own way is still a baby due to their circumstances.
I’m not sure which of these reasons (or something else altogether) the author chose as the meaning behind the title.
Now we come to the part of the Book Club where we announce the next book we’ll be reading. Drumroll, please…
by Andy Weir
I watched this movie recently and just loved it, so I’m super excited to Book Club about the book. Questions can be found in this Google Doc. We hope you’ll join us!
Did you blog about Pretty Baby this month? Link up with us! We’d appreciate a link back to our blogs somewhere in your post (easily done by copying the code below), and commenting on other clubbers would be awesome too!