S.C.'s Reviews > Liar

Liar by Justine Larbalestier
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May 31, 12

Read in July, 2009

Move over, Stephenie Meyer - someone else is coming close to Young Adult Fiction supremacy, but fast. From the author of the acclaimed Magic or Madness Trilogy, "Liar" comes from Justine Larbalestier's own experiences as a liar. She said before writing this novel that "I've since discovered that many of my fellow novelists were liars as kids. It got me thinking about the connections between lies and stories, the reasons we lie, and what it would be like to lie about everything. How would you live such a life? Why would you live like that?" Her novel is one of many imaginative answers to that question.

Micah Wilkins is a liar. That's what she tells you before she even begins her story. But she swears she's finally telling the truth this time, and most of what she tells you in the beginning can't be believed due to her confessed history of duplicity. A new student at a progressive NYC private school, Micah is still an outcast among a culturally diverse body of students, her place in the social hierarchy made even more shaky by her "family illness" and her physical oddities (she grows unusually thick, dark patches of hair on her body if she does not take an oral contraceptive). She first tries to pass herself off as a boy when a teacher mistakes her for one, feeling more at home on the basketball court with fellow students Zach and Tayshawn than anywhere else. Once she is outed by Zach's well-to-do girlfriend Sarah, Micah invents more lies to distract from the original and stimulates gossip as a result. Despite being labeled an oddball by virtually everyone who knows her name, Zach still takes an interest in her and they begin socializing off school premises, meeting in the tree-dappled, paved wilderness of Central Park. When Zach winds up dead, fingers begin pointing at Micah and the police begin questioning her, her string of lies that she has told thus far beginning to catch up with her. Though she insists over and over (to the reader and to characters in the book) that she didn't kill Zach, one can hardly believe what she says. The more Micah speaks, the more her lies are stretched until they break, the truth spilling between the cracks with an inevitable confession on the horizon. Though she makes many confessions throughout the book, Zach's death and the unbosoming of her identity will more than explain the reasons behind her fantastical string of falsehoods.

"Liar" is a lengthy Young Adult novel (tentative page count for the first edition hardback in October is 388) but I still managed to read it quickly, Larbalestier's language simple and efficient, her first-person narrative sufficiently facilitating a plot that unfolds at a constant and comfortable pace. It contains no chapters, instead sections titled "Before", "After", "History of Me", "Family History" and "School History" to differentiate between past and present. As a result, nothing is chronological - Larbalestier employs a deliberately disordered cut-and-paste method of storytelling that tasks the brain's short and long-term recall and makes it harder to figure out what's really going on. She takes her time building up to the more climactic events therein and then pulls the ol' "ton of bricks" routine by dropping a superb subplot on her reader's heads, one that will have them recalling all the hints she dropped in the first 200 pages. The journey to the impetus behind Micah's lies takes some time and patience on the reader's part but once past that point, the story will take on a whole new standpoint and the reader will graciously follow suit. Among the more unusual praise her work has received from young adult fans are the inclusion of multiethnic protagonists, a female fan bemoaning once that "most books are so white" (Micah is biracial, Zach is Hispanic, Micah's father Isiah is African-American). The Australian native even balked at the US cover of her book, a headshot of a curiously Caucasian-looking female adorning the jacket [...] She says her influences for writing "Liar" were her "years of obsessively reading Patricia Highsmith, Walter Mosley and Jim Thompson. The little I know about writing a psychological thriller I learned from them."

Bottom line: A story that is sure to catch on quick and get tongues wagging among young readers as well as older ones who enjoy the Young Adult genre, "Liar" enchants with its pathological protagonist as well as the drive to wash away her sedimentous layer of lies to uncover the truth.
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