Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Liar

Ever since the cover controversy, I've been waiting to read Justine Larbalestier's new YA novel, Liar. There's a lot of secrecy surrounding this book; even specifying the genre could reveal something that it would be more fun to discover as you read. So I decided to read it sooner rather than later, using the general guideline that as much as I enjoyed the first novel by her I read, How To Ditch Your Fairy, I was also likely to enjoy her second. The first novel was fun, and the second one is also fun but in a slightly different way--it's playful about its narrative technique. How far can you believe in a fictional world being narrated by a self-described liar?

Far enough to get interested, is my answer. I'm going to try not to spoil your reading of this novel in my review of it, but if you want to be sure, stop reading this, go get the book and read it. I mean it, NOW. I'll wait for you.

Okay, at this point I'm assuming that you've either read the book or you don't mind me talking about some of what happens. The narrator, Micah, is a senior in high school and she has more to hide than the typical adolescent. She's interested in only two of her classes (which seems pretty typical to me)--Biology and "Dangerous Words," which seems to be an English class focusing on censorship. When one of Micah's classmates asks a guest speaker "what is it about writing for teenagers that leads to so much censorship?" I leaned forward, at least metaphorically, because I expected that this speaker, this creation of Larbalestier's, would have a lot to say about that. But I didn't get an answer. Instead I got Micah's thoughts:
"I knew the answer to that one but I didn't raise my hand. It's because grown-ups don't remember what it was like when they were teenagers. Not really. They remember something out of a Disney movie and that's where they want to keep us. They don't like the idea of our hormones, or that we can smell sex on one another. That we walk down halls thick with a million different pheremones. We see each other, catch a glance, the faintest edge of one, that sends a shiver through our bodies all the way to the parts of us our parents wish didn't exist."

Micah claims to be telling her reader the truth, although she also says "I'm at least a third-generation liar. Though I bet it goes back earlier. If I could get Grandmother or Great-Aunt Dorothy to talk about it." She makes a confession on p. 169 that changes the reader's entire view of the truth about her (my daughter guessed it on page 63, partly because she reads a lot in the genre to which this novel belongs).

The one lie that disappointed me on first reading--about Micah's brother--turns out later to have been only a partial lie based on wish fulfillment. Like all the best lies in the novel, it's a lie based on what Micah wishes had been true, and it's related to all the other lies of her existence. Her parents, she says
"stopped loving me....[they] still said they loved me, still kissed me good night, still let me live in their home and eat their food, but it was pretend: they were waiting for the right time to get rid of me.
For five years I lived a shadow life with shadow parents and never knew the difference.
Except that I did.
I just couldn't admit it to myself.
But they never admitted it either. They abandoned me.
Who's the bigger liar?
Me or them?
Isn't lying about love the worst lie?"

Nothing is simple in this novel. Nothing turns out to be what you thought. The ending is ambiguous, mostly because you can't tell exactly how the adults in Micah's life might have actually responded to being told her truths. In other words, reading this novel makes you feel a lot like being seventeen.

11 comments:

Amanda said...

Okay, I did stop reading, because I do have this on my shelf and plan to read it, and I know it can be majorly spoiled. I will come back and read when I eventually get to the book...

Jeanne said...

Amanda, This is one I'd get to sooner, rather than later!

readersguide said...

This sounds really good -- hmmm.

Anonymous said...

The man in my life (tm) wants me to read this book. Waiting on the local library -

lemming

Anonymous said...

Larbalister wrote a trilogy as well. The fairy book wasn't her first. The trilogy she wrote is magic and madness it's better then the fairy book.

Jeanne said...

Anonymous, thanks. You're right--the fairy book is not her first novel, so I just edited my post to say the first novel by her I read, which is what I meant.

But the earlier ones are good? Hmmm, sounds like a trip to the library is in my near future!

J. Kaye said...

I really agree with your last sentence too. This was an awesome book!

Jodie said...

I skipped ahead when I read this the first time because of spoilers but now I've read it and can come talk about it. Interested to hear you say not believing Micah makes her story not worth telling in my comments, but I'm not sure exactly what you mean, can you explain a bit more? I also beleieve Micah about 95% of the time, but there's still this nagging doubt that comes back every so often, triggered by the 'that's why she visits me so often' comment towards the end of the book and I think that's Larbalestier's skill in manipulating her readers perceptions coming up again.

Jeanne said...

Jodie, If she's not what she claims to be, then she's just a mental case, and that makes the story not worth telling, for me.

That little bit of doubt is fun, though--like hearing any kind of story about the supernatural...

Jodie said...

Straight to the point!:) Do you think that doubt is thrown in to make us think maybe the adults wouldn't belieeve her and could have locked her up then?

Jeanne said...

Jodie, yes, that's exactly what I believe. It makes it even better YA fiction. No one ever believes kids.