Book review: Prettier If She Smiled More by Toni Jordan

Friday, March 31, 2023 Permalink

Toni Jordan’s debut novel Addition, was one of my favourite books when it was released in 2008 and I also loved The Fragments – giving it a rare (for me) five stars. I commented then on her beautiful writing and her ability to develop complex, quirky, likeable and very real characters.

Prettier If She Smiled More features Kylie Schnabel – a judicious pharmacist and a responsible and pragmatic daughter, sister, friend and girlfriend – who’s perfectly content with her lot in life, harbouring no great ambitions for more than she has. Until it starts disappearing before her eyes.

Book review: Prettier If She Smiled More by Toni JordanPrettier If She Smiled More
by Toni Jordan
Published by Hachette Australia
on 29/03/2023
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 9780733645143
Pages: 400

As the eldest child in a single-parent family, Kylie’s always had more important things on her mind than smiling. Controlling her job, her home, her romantic life — and most importantly, her family — takes all her concentration. She’s always succeeded, though, because that’s who Kylie is.

Until one Monday morning, when Kylie discovers the local pharmacy where she works is being taken over by a huge corporation, putting her stable job at risk. This leads to a cascade of disasters: her boyfriend is acting suspiciously and she finds herself caring for a high-maintenance Pomeranian.

When her fiercely independent mother breaks an ankle and needs help, it’s up to Kylie, as usual, to fix things. She reluctantly packs her bags, but back in her childhood home, things start to unravel. Could it be that Kylie’s carefully curated life is not so perfect after all?

I have to admit I really wanted to smack Kylie around the head a little on many several occasions here. On this whole, she’s a confident woman and acts with purpose – dumps her boyfriend when she suspects he’s cheating on her for example – but on so many other occasions she lets stuff slide and gets stomped on.

In some ways it’s horrifying to watch (well, read!) because I could see some of my own behaviour in her. I tend to go ‘above and beyond’ cos I’m a people pleaser and don’t like to let anyone down. On the other hand, Kylie is told over and over again that she is far from a people person but – she has a strong sense of responsibility and we eventually learn the role of martyr is one she’s played since her childhood. And one – originally anyway – she had no choice in.

I was initially thinking Kylie’s behaviour was a little inconsistent but eventually realised that her lack of assertiveness really only manifests itself within her own family situation and in the workplace. As an outsider looking in it’s obvious how much extra she takes on and it’s not always out of a desire to not say no, but rather to ensure things get done. Properly. And she really REALLY isn’t good at asking for help or admitting when she’s in trouble. #hardrelate

Sadly I also related to how much of Kylie’s life is built around her work and her profession. It very much defines her and when that’s threatened, she’s at a loss.

Jordan times Kylie’s crises (yes plural, as there are several) brilliantly here and they come thick and fast. There’s a lot to love about this book. Jordan’s writing is again gentle, clever, familiar and addictive in the way it lures readers into Kylie’s world. I came to care deeply for Kylie and Jordan delivers us the perfect character arc… and one that’s slightly unpredictable.

Of course there are deeper messages and themes here about the legacy we’re left with from childhood and how it can shape the rest of our lives, though at the same time reminding us of the aspirations we once had, long left behind.

Prettier If She Smiled More by Toni Jordan was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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