Paint Me Fearless – Hallie Lee

Paint Me Fearless by Hallie Lee
Series: The Shady Gully #1
on December 29, 2020
Genres: Fiction, General
Buy on Amazon

When DESIREE (Desi) moves to the small town of Shady Gully, Louisiana, unpopular ROBIN feels diminished by the new girl’s notoriety. Despite their petite appearances, this unlikely pair have nothing in common.
But fate has other ideas, and as these two isolated girls are drawn together, a friendship born in high school soon evolves into a bond that promises to last a lifetime. Even as their paths diverge, and they clumsily marry and plow through raising families of their own, they remain true.
Even as they nurse their respective bruises, and carry their traumas from childhood into their own marriages, they always have each other’s backs. Even when a sordid secret from their past emerges to threaten their families, together…they remain a force to be reckoned with.
Until years later, when they’re enjoying the prime of their lives, a stunning rumor surfaces that threatens their lifelong connection. The allegation suggests that one has betrayed the other.
Truth? Lie? Does it matter? Sometimes just the hint of betrayal can ruin a lifelong bond.
As their worlds collide, and old insecurities rise to the forefront, the layers of Desi and Robin’s legendary friendship begin to unravel.
Just when it seems they’ve lost everything, the truth brings them full circle …and in their brokenness they come to realize that there is only one true way to fill the emptiness inside, to quiet the lies—and to ultimately become…fearless.

I love relational novels, novels that are just the stories of people. Don’t get me wrong. I like speculative fiction and thrillers, but sometimes you just want to settle in with a book that is about life and relationships. Life is story, after all. Paint Me Fearless is that kind of book, taking readers on a sweeping journey from middle school to adulthood for two friends whose paths keep intersecting. It’s a story of struggle and disorder, a story of trauma and pain—and ultimately a story of redemption and forgiveness. There was a lot to like about this book, but unfortunately the story never came together.

Author Hallie Lee obviously knows how to write conversation and knows how to write vignettes. Paint Me Fearless is written as a series of snapshots told in the voice of the two main characters, Robin and Desi, as they grow up, grow apart, then come back. Every scene seems like primarily dialogue. Action is there, but minimal. We get to know the characters through their conversations. It’s a bold tactic, but Lee just doesn’t pull it off. The scenes come across as disconnected from each other. There’s no tether that binds the scenes together into a cohesive unit.

Let me give you two examples. First, I never got a good grasp on the passage of time. Because everything is so character-focused, the setting blurs into the background. Is it 1960 or 2020? I can’t really tell. There’s a vague sense that the early scenes aren’t present day, but the setting seems static as the characters age. Even something as simple as including the year or the passage of time in the chapter subheadings would have helped mitigate this issue. Second, Robin and Desi are never given their own voice. They are distinct characters, they have their own problems and life choices, but as far as how they’re written they come across as very similar. They’re different characters, but they both have the same voice. Those two things made it difficult to feel settled in the story. I was constantly trying to remember whose story was whose and when it was.

The constant movement also keeps the story from settling in with any depth. As soon as a storyline develops, we’re pulled out of that and when we come back there have been off-screen changes that we aren’t told out. We’re just dipping in and out of these character’s lives but the story isn’t strong enough to hold the narrative together. Overall, Paint Me Fearless is a good attempt at a novel. It isn’t awful. But it needed something more than great characters to be a good book.