Liar

cover image for LiarLarbalestier, Justine. (2009). Liar. NewYork: Bloomsbury.

Plot Summary/Critical Evaluation:

Everybody lies.  We say that we adore gifts that we hate, profess delight in meals that are lacking, and assure our parents that yes, our homework is all done.  For most of us, the lying ends there.  Not for Micah though, she doesn’t just tell the occasional white lie, she’s a compulsive liar.  “But [she’s] going to stop.”  She has to.  So pay attention, because she’s going to tell you the truth and she’s “going to tell it straight.  No lies, no omissions.”

Layer by layer, Larbalestier peels back Micah’s deceptions to expose the truth and banish the lies, but they are rarely what you’d expected.  Micah doesn’t pretend to know bands that she has never heard of, claim to own trophies that she never earned, or fake an illness to get out of class.  Rather, she decides to wear a Venetian mask to school – and forges a doctor’s note to justify it.

There is a peculiar and unexpected honesty in Micah’s fibs.  False as they are, they also let her push against the edges of conformity and let Micah be herself without forcing her to claim to know who she is when she doesn’t yet.   At the same time, they also act as role to play and hide behind – even from herself.

When her friend Zach disappears, however, Micah discovers that her lies might finally cost her more than just the goodwill of her peers.  No longer simply a cathartic confession of past sins, Liar quickly becomes an especially twisted kind of mystery, with Micah’s admissions of falsehood and guilt taking on the urgency of someone both digging for the truth and fighting for survival.

The twists and turns that Micah’s story takes also do more than keep readers on their toes. Because of the way that the story is structured, the lies rely as much on our assumptions of what constitutes normalcy as they do on Micah’s audacity. It’s beyond brilliant, exceptionally appropriate in a novel for young adults, and Larbalestier deserves nothing but praise for pulling it off.

This is a novel that, like Micah, refuses to be boxed in.  It’s not simply that it flirts with genres the same way that Micah plays with her identity.  Rather, like Micah herself, how you classify it and how much you enjoy it will greatly depend on which parts of her story you choose to believe.

Larbalestier’s clear understanding of the fandom traditions of genre fiction bleed onto the page, demanding that the conversation expand beyond the reading of the book itself.  Liar is a novel that is meant to be talked about, it’s value and interest is fundamentally tied to comparing notes and possibilities afterwards.  The obvious conundrum is that spoilers for a book such as this – even mild ones – would also impose points of view that would limit the discussions afterwards.

So when I tell you that you must read it – and now – know that I say this not because it is lacking flaws, but because I am eager to hear what you thought of it.

Reader’s Annotation:

Everybody lies – sometimes.  Micah lies all the time.  She’s going to tell you the truth though, so listen up.

Author Information:

http://justinelarbalestier.com/

@JustineLavaworm

Genre:

Science Fiction (but that is my opinion.  I assure you that you may have a completely different one)

Booktalking Ideas:

This is actually a very difficult book to talk up, for the reasons already mentioned in the review.  Most shorter book talks can simply focus on the idea of the unreliable narrator.  Longer ones will have to try to bring in mild spoilers from the first few pages – Zach’s disappearance being on of the major ones.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Potential Controversy:

Micah is bisexual, lies to her parents (duh), sneaks around with her boyfriend, and, well, let’s just say there is a decent amount of violence.  I wouldn’t really expect many challenges, however, because I can’t see many people talking about this book with people that have not already read it.    Challenges that do come up can be responded to with the fact that the book is meant to be, in part, an exploration of the rationalizations we make for less than moral choices; Micah’s more dubious actions are not condoned by the text.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I honestly wasn’t terribly intrigued by the idea of a “psychological thriller” about a teen girl who lies.  I have a lot of respect for Larbalestier herself though, based on her posts and tweets, and the book was recommended by a friend.  I am very glad I decided to finally read it.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You

cover image for I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You

Carter, Ally. (2006) I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children

Plot Summary:

Most everyone in town thinks that the girls that attend the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women are nothing but a bunch of spoiled snobs.  That’s the way they like it though, because when the truth is that your school is training you to become a spy, it’s always good to know your cover story is holding up.  But when an ordinary boy starts to notice Cameron Morgan (nickname, the Chameleon) she’s suddenly not so sure that she wants to keep hiding in plain sight.

Critical Evaluation:

There’s no denying that Ally Carter’s excessively popular Gallagher Girls series is stuffed to bursting with silliness and absurdly improbable scenarios – like schedules printed on evapopaper and field trips that involve “borrowing” delivery trucks.  It also has a lot more depth than it often gets credit for.  Snuck between the slapstick comedy and preciousness are some interesting questions about identity, sacrifice, and who heroism is really for.  When Cammie’s new teacher questions if her father should have gone on the mission that ended up being his last, he isn’t just talking about skills, but rather asking if it was worth it.

The text does not provide neat answers to these questions, but neither does it dwell on them; rather than challenging anything head on or at length, it tends to come at things sideways and then quickly move onto more diverting topics.  Complexity is often dismissed in favor of humor and happy endings.  I think it is this, as much as the trappings of the book, that causes some to dismiss the series.

That’s alright though, because, like the Gallagher Academy itself, that’s how it’s supposed to work.  While others may roll their eyes at the silliness of it all and dismiss their fannishness as rooted in finding shiny! happy! preppiness appealing, the fans themselves know what their plaid skirts really represent.

This isn’t a series specifically for older teens, although many may like it and it’s a respectable inclusion in any young adult collection.  The audience it will most appeal to are younger teen girls, who are just beginning to be pressured to hide their passions and intelligence; the girls who are in the process of losing the fearlessness of girlhood for the insecurities and self-consciousness of adolescence.  [Unfortunately, I also need to add the qualifiers of “white, straight, middle class” younger teen girls, for while it could be worse in terms of inclusiveness, it could also do much better.]

For the girls that come to signings decked out in Gallagher Girls plaid, the series clearly offers them a way to hide in plain sight, just like Cammie does.  Readers are not necessarily challenged by the series, but it does offer much more than comfort or amusement– it offers a path for subversion that may perhaps be too safe to be effective in changing things now, but yet still gives girls the strength to stay true to themselves until they feel more confident in speaking their minds publicly.  The high expectations that Cammie and her classmates have for themselves, and the knowledge that failure means more than just some red marks on a page, also give voice to the pressures of perfection that many girls feel without requiring that they directly question the institutions they take part in. In short, it gives them a way to make a show of embracing compulsory femininity while not feeling ashamed of their complicated and less than perfect inner selves.   It is this, I think, that is the secret to the series success – and the reason why it is only occasionally brilliant and yet also cleverer than it often gets credit for.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cameron “Chameleon” Morgan gets top marks in her covert ops classes, so why is it that an ordinary boy with no spy training at all notices her?  And what will happen if Cammie decides that she no longer wants to stay hidden?

Author Information:

http://allycarter.com/blog/

@officiallyally

Genre:

Girl’s Series

Booktalking Ideas:

Most everyone in town thinks that the girls that attend the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women are nothing but a bunch of spoiled snobs.  That’s the way they like it though, because when the truth is that your school is training you to become a spy, it’s always good to know your cover story is holding up.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade / 10-16

Potential Controversy:

I honestly cannot think of any.  Not so much because there is nothing for anyone to object to – because there is always something someone will find objectionable – but because the series does such a good job of hiding from the people who would object to it.

Reasons for choosing this title:

I was curious by the age levels suggested in Teen Genreflecting 3 because the girls I saw lining up at a signing two years ago were all very young.  I also wanted to see for myself what makes the series so appealing.