Review: Boss-level girl revolution ‘Smile and Look Pretty’

This image released by Park Row shows "Smile and Look Pretty" by Amanda Pellegrino. (Park Row via AP)

This image released by Park Row shows “Smile and Look Pretty” by Amanda Pellegrino. (Park Row via AP)

“Smile and Look Pretty” by Amanda Pellegrino (Park Row)

Enter Cate’s office. It’s where she thought she’d be vetting out the next Great American Novel. Instead, Cate’s ordering lunch for her boss and covertly applying lipstick before silently bringing in coffee during meetings.

The first warning that this place won’t live up to her expectations: the “suicide-proof windows” that adorn the room where she interviewed for the job.

Amanda Pellegrino’s debut novel “Smile and Look Pretty” deftly explores the world of assistants dealing with all manner of mistreatment in the name of working their way up.

Fortunately for Cate, she has a solid support system in her three best friends who share her plight in their respective industries. Lauren wants to be a TV writer but can’t seem to edge her way in to so much as a single writing credit. Olivia works for a washed-up actor in hopes that he’ll finally make good on his promise to forward her demo reel to his agent. Max, future journalist, provides coffee for “The Morning Show” hosts while keeping her head on a swivel for the news anchor who can’t seem to keep his hands to himself.

When the ridiculousness of their jobs reaches a boiling point, the four decide to start a blog where they can anonymously vent — and maybe even start a revolution. But they’ll have to get the word out and build trust among the other 20somethings struggling to climb the ladder.

These incognito bloggers will soon have to decide if their internet insurgency is worth losing their anonymity, and probably their jobs.

“Smile and Look Pretty” captures the tangle of anxiety-ridden thoughts that hang heavy over women during and after misogynistic faux pas. Pellegrino uses a show-don’t-tell style that trusts her audience to recognize and relate to the situations she describes.

It even passes the Bechdel test, although more narrowly than expected. But you can’t affect change in the patriarchy without discussing its key players. This feminist novel possesses the nuance to acknowledge both the men who ally themselves with women, and the women who perpetuate misogyny and hierarchical hogwash.

“Smile and Look Pretty” is an affirmation to those who can relate to Cate, Max, Olivia and Lauren, as well as a girl-power rallying cry. In a sea of media in which men are either saviors or villains, and women are their prize, this novel provides a life raft.

Filled with wit, humor and snark, if you liked “A Promising Young Woman,” you’ll enjoy “Smile and Look Pretty.” Like the former, the latter will leave you raising your hackles at the merest whiff of the patriarchy.

Donna Edwards
Donna Edwards
Donna is a text editor for the Asia-Pacific region.