Liar by Justine Larbalestier

liarUsually an unreliable narrator creeps up on you.  You notice an inconsistency here and there, something about the story doesn’t feel quite right, you start to get suspicious.  It’s almost a game – you look for the clues that prove you’re being lied to.  But Justine Larbalestier changes the rules of the game.  It’s right there on the cover, staring at you in capital letters: LIAR.  There’s no need to look for the proof – it’s admitted from the first time you see the book.  But there’s a different game being played here.  It’s a game of teasing admissions and sly winks.  When Micah admits that something she said earlier in the novel was a lie, what do you believe?  The title puts the reader on notice – you’re on your toes looking for the truth from the very first sentence.  It makes for a frustrating reading experience in many ways.  But it’s that delicious, thought-provoking kind of frustration that I love.

Micah is a compulsive liar, just like her dad.  When she started at her school, she had everyone convinced that she was a boy for several days.  No one believes much of anything that she says anymore, if they pay her any attention at all.  But when Zach, a popular boy from Micah’s class, is found dead in a suspected murder, the eyes of the school are suddenly back on Micah.  Micah was Zach’s “after-hours” girlfriend – which comes as a shock to the unbelieving student body and Zach’s other girlfriend, Sarah. From these basics, Larbalestier leads us down some unexpected twists and turns.

Now, of course, any kind of plot description is not something you can take at face value.  Is any of what I just said true?  No idea.  Go ahead and dive in – see if you can separate fact from fiction.  And if you figure it out, let me know.  There’s also the question of why Micah lies.  She’s got her version:

“Really, according to the shrinks, I am angry at everyone.  Especially them.

I am all anger and resentment all the time.

Not one of them has ever suggested that maybe I lie because the world is better the way I tell it.” (pg. 266. Quoted from ARC – text may change.)

It’s an interesting question, and there are a lot of possible answers hinted at in the text.  But if the world really is better the way Micah tells it, I would hate to live in her world – this is a dark book.  Many of her lies stem directly from Zach’s death – this is not just a story about lying, but also a story about grief.  The reader is privy to Micah’s extreme reactions to Zach’s sudden death, and also gets glimpses of how his girlfriend Sarah and his best friend Tayshawn deal with the loss of a friend.  Their reactions are appropriately complex, often touching, and occasionally kind of creepy.

My favorite thing about this book is Micah’s uneasy relationship with her lying.  At times, I was absolutely convinced that she desperately wants to be able to tell the truth.  Sometime she believes her own lies, especially those lies that really do make her world easier for her to live in.  At other times her lies are manipulative, and sometimes they are just because she doesn’t feel like telling the truth.  She uses frank admissions about her previous lies as a way to throw the reader off balance, or as an attempt to gain trust.  It’s fascinating to watch, especially later in the book when she has dug deep into many half-truths and flat-out lies.  She begins keeping a tally of lies to the reader that she has admitted to:

“How many lies is that now?  I’m losing track.

But surely it’s not so big a lie, really?  I don’t think I’ll include it in the official tally.  It was just to Sarah and Tayshawn.  And you.

Now I’m telling the truth.” (pg. 284, reviewed from ARC)

Micah’s mind games are as internal as they are external.  Her machinations and her complex relationship with truth and lies made this book compulsively readable.

One more thing: this cover is gorgeous, no?  I love it on it’s own.  I love it a lot less after reading the book.  It’s a whole lot more playful looking than the book actually is, for one thing.  But also, it looks nothing at all like Micah – her very short hair, her mixed race, and her ability to pass as a boy are mentioned several times in the novel.  Unless Micah was lying about that, too…  One more thing to think about, I guess.  (Edited to add: this is definitely not the case!  If you haven’t yet, please read Justine Larbalestier’s thoughts on the cover of Liar here.)

Justine Larbalestier on the web.

Justine’s excellent blog.

Liar on the web.

Review copy provided by publisher.