Book Review: Pretending to be Erica

Pretending to be Erica
Published By: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: July 21, 2015
Page Count: 272
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary, Thriller

Violet has been raised to be the perfect con artist. She was plucked from foster care due to her resemblance to a missing girl who came from a wealthy and opulent family in Las Vegas. Sal, her adoptive father and crime teacher, has groomed Violet to step into Erica's shoes. Erica has been missing since she was a young child so Violet has had plenty of time to study Erica's family and community; she's also had time for the numerous surgeries to enhance her likeness. Violet knows that Erica is dead and buried somewhere, but Erica's family still holds onto the hope that she's alive somewhere. It's this hope that allows Violet to slip easily into the Silverman's lives and try to claim her place as the long lost heiress. Violet has one goal - steal a valuable painting and disappear, but things get complicated as she begins to form attachments.

I wasn't sure if this novel was for me because crime novels typically aren't my cup of tea, but I'm glad I gave this one a go. Violet/Erica is a compelling character who has you cringing from her lies and rooting for her all at once. While I don't condone Violet's actions, I was able to see her a sympathetic character who had been wronged. She doesn't get a childhood or a loving family. It was hard to begrudge her the relationships she forms while posing as Erica. I couldn't ultimately forgive her completely though as she intentionally preyed upon the Silvermans' grief. I did enjoy the way Painchaud chose to write this character. During the con, Violet so fully embraces Erica that it feels as if two characters reside within one body. The narration takes some interesting turns as this dynamic plays out.

Violet/Erica's relationship in this novel were the most intriguing element for me. I was particularly drawn to her connections with Mrs. Silverman and James. These relationships symbolized all the things Erica would have had if she had been allowed to continue along with her life and all of the things that Violet was denied. It was nice to see Violet become more normal and have emotions. I found her time as Erica smoothed her rough edges.

As I was reading this one, I couldn't help thinking of the intrigue surrounding Anastasia. So many impostors claimed to be the daughter of Czar Nicholas II. They spun elaborate stories to prove their identity even though it was virtually impossible that Anastasia would have escaped the tragic fate that befell her parents and siblings. Wealth and fame drove these people to use a horrible event to attempt to improve their social standing. Violet begins in the same vein, but soon realizes that pulling a con may not be the way she wants to live forever.

Overall, I really enjoyed this fast paced contemporary that has its fair share of thriller elements. I knew how I wanted things to end and while I didn't get my ending, I was happy with the direction Painchaud chose to go. I did feel that there were moments in the story when I wanted more details and interactions with the characters. It bugged me at first that everything felt like it was at arms length - within sight, but not fully experienced. I soon realized that the writing style was mimicking Violet's interaction with the setting and characters. She never fully took on the role of daughter or friend. She was an observer who didn't let people get too close. Once I fully settled into that notion, the novel quickly became addicting and I polished it off largely in one sitting. Violet is the summer's most interesting antihero.

One Last Gripe: The pacing felt a little off.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: The premise was intriguing.

First Sentence: I still haven't gotten used to writing my new name.

Favorite Character: James

Least Favorite Character: Sal

We Were Liars meets Heist Society in a riveting debut!

Seventeen-year-old Violet’s entire life has revolved around one thing: becoming Erica Silverman, an heiress kidnapped at age five and never seen again. Violet’s father, the best con man in Las Vegas, has a plan, chilling in its very specific precision. Violet shares a blood type with Erica; soon, thanks to surgery and blackmail, she has the same face, body, and DNA. She knows every detail of the Silvermans’ lives, as well as the PTSD she will have to fake around them. And then, when the time is right, she “reappears”—Erica Silverman, brought home by some kind of miracle. But she is also Violet, and she has a job: Stay long enough to steal the Silverman Painting, an Old Master legendary in the Vegas crime world. Walking a razor’s edge, calculating every decision, not sure sometimes who she is or what she is doing it for, Violet is an unforgettable heroine, and Pretending to be Erica is a killer debut.


  1. I thought your review of Pretending to be Erica was spot on. I also enjoyed the book, found it very sophisticated technically, and delighted in the author's dialogue skills which were off-the-charts-good. The plot chosen had a high degree of difficulty of being executed, but I felt Painchaud pulled it off adroitly.


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