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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Pretty: A Memoir by Karen Vorbeck Williams takes us back to middle America in the 1950s when the author was growing up in the small town of Grand Junction, Colorado, seemingly in the perfect '50s family. Williams, however, knew that beneath the smiling perfection things were not really as they seemed. By the time her mother decided to divorce her father (an unusual event in the ’50s) and take the three daughters far away to Ojai, California, the author was struggling with identifying who she was, what she wanted from life and how to get there. Young girls were supposedly good for only one thing – snaring a successful and preferably wealthy husband. Even those girls who attended college back then seemed to have, as their primary motivation, to meet a future husband among the college-going crowd. Karen was dogged by the desire to be an actress or a performer of some sort. It was her passion and her joy, yet she was dogged by self-doubts and criticisms that she had endured her whole young life – was she really as pretty as everyone said? Was she really too overweight for a career in showbusiness? Did she have what it took to be a star?
In Pretty: A Memoir, author Karen Vorbeck Williams is candid and frank about what it was like to grow up in 1950s small-town America. I loved the realness of the emotions, doubt, and angst that came clearly through every page. The author did a fantastic job of describing the state of mind of a young woman who came from a background of two vastly different parents, whose influences on her clashed at every level. Her mother, so free and independent for a woman of the time, instilled something special within her daughter’s psyche and yet her father’s slow, deliberate, some would say boring approach to life clearly tempered Karen’s enthusiasm and commitment to chasing her dreams. This is a well-written and easy to read memoir of just a small part of Williams’ life but such a vital part of it that formed her character for the rest of her years. My biggest take from this story is that when we put labels on children, whether the labels are positive or negative, we have a profound effect on the way that child thinks about themselves. For Williams, the label that defined her in so many ways was “pretty” and it came to influence her decisions and her beliefs about herself in all aspects of her life, not all of them useful or positive. This is an excellent read and one I can highly recommend.