Thursday, March 4

Liar - Justine Larbalestier

From her first freshman day at her new school, when she was mistaken for a boy and didn't correct her homeroom teacher, everyone knew that Micah Wilkins lies. But Micah has good reason not to tell the truth - her family has a shocking secret that she has to protect, a secret that would horrify all the kids who already think she's weird, and involve the media and scientists. But when her classmate and secret boyfriend, kind of, popular boy Zach is found dead and mutilated in Central Park, everything starts to come undone, and Micah has to tell the truth, at least to her reader. Or does she?
Micah's a sympathetic and intriguing character. Lying is an ingrained habit and though she vows at the beginning to tell the truth, Micah confesses to lying during her narrative, often about really significant details and events. And somehow her lies make her outrageous story more believable, as well as keeping the reader on their toes and glued to the page - with each statement and revelation one has to ask if this, too, is a lie, a truth, a half truth, an exaggeration, an omission or a distortion. And this complexity includes her character, the structure of the novel (which twists between the past and the present, in a non-linear winding I found compelling), and the dance of the narrative.
There's certainly scope in Liar for literary analysis - metaphors abound, and Micah herself straddles several worlds: she's bi-racial (black and white), her father's American and her mother French, she hovers between childhood and adulthood, the country and the city, insular and cosmopolitan, and she's an outsider by both circumstance and choice. Above all there's space for a wide variety of interpretations - with such an unreliable narrator almost every aspect of Micah's story is up for debate, including whether the things she confess to as lies are truth.
That does not make Liar boring and literary, however - the plot and the character are engaging for the duration, and the sensation of never being able to rely on her version of events is novel. I can see, however, how some readers would find this disquieting or unpleasant. Similarly I can see how some readers could find the central twist unconvincing and forced.
Not knowing Micah's secret going in is key to engagement with the plot, so I won't even hide it as a spoiler. How the reader responds to this revelation will affect how they feel about the text as a whole - it certainly kinks the genre, which will be disruptive for some, while others will embrace both the concept of the secret and the fact that the reader's left with ambiguity: is Micah delusional, substituting an unpalatable reality for a fantastic alternate version of her reality, or is she really what she believes? I was left thinking the former, and saw hints of this throughout the text, but almost anything is possible. If you're interested in a young adult novel that's strongly written and leaves you thinking, but unconventionally composed and unpredictable, this is for you. - Alex

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