Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Book Review: Liar

I started following Justine Larbalestier's career when Jenny Davidson mentioned the Magic or Madness books on her blog, about three years ago. I loved the Magic or Madness trilogy, which takes place in contemporary New York and Sydney, mostly, but which has a sharp fantastical edge to it. I was hooked by her writing, so I started following her blog, which is one of the must-reads in YA blogging. (And, no, I'm not going to name the rest as I'm sure I'm missing some, but if you start with hers you'll find links to many of the others as well.) I was then able to get my hands on a copy of How to Ditch Your Fairy before it came out, and was equally pleased by it--equally, and in an entirely different way. Where Magic or Madness is, in places, dark and threatening, HTDYF is mostly pretty light; both, though, manage to weave fantasy into what feels a lot like realism. Magic exists in these worlds, but it's not what defines them.

I've just finished Larbalestier's latest, Liar, which is due out from Bloomsbury in October, and all I could say when I put the book down was, "wow." Really.

It's hard to review this book without giving too much away, and while I generally don't care much about spoilers, because I value rereading, I do think it would be unfair to give much away about this novel since it's not even out yet. And since figuring out what's going on in the novel is central to its many pleasures.

So here's what I can say. Micah Wilkins is a liar. And yet she is also the narrator of this novel, and I think in the end she's a pretty reliable one. Except when she isn't--but she always tells us when she isn't. So then again in the end she is. And she lies because she has a secret, a secret that's not hers alone, a secret that she can't reveal. Though eventually she does. Maybe.

But she's got a big problem. Her boyfriend is missing--actually, dead--and the police seem to think that maybe she has something to do with it. She tells them what she can, and she tells us what she can't tell them. And that's where the novel really takes off, for me. Because how does someone who's been lying all her life keep the lies straight from the truth? How could we tell? What does it mean, anyway, to tell the truth if the truth is unbelievable--if, in other hands, it might seem more like a lie? Or if it's--yes, I think this is where we have to go--a fiction?

While I might be making this sound like some kind of postmodern metafiction (and while at some level I think it is), Liar is also a compulsively readable mystery. The fact that the detective may know more than she's telling us keeps us guessing throughout. Set in a recognizably contemporary New York City, in an "alternative" private high school where the teachers go by their first names and the students still don't fully trust them, Liar is about family bonds and family stories, about love and desire and need. I couldn't put it down. Trust me.


  1. This one sounds great. I loved How To Ditch Your Fairy, so I'll put Liar on my list of books to actually purchase when it comes out!

  2. Wow, this sounds really good.