by Justine Larbalestier
Cover Artist: Photo: Ali Smith
Review by Cathy Green
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781599903057
Date: 29 September 2009 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
“Everything I say is true. I am a liar.” While Liar, Justine Larbalestier's latest novel, does not open with that exact phrase (used by the Doctor and Captain Kirk to destroy evil logic-based computers throughout the galaxy), her protagonist Micah does admit right off the bat that she is a compulsive liar, although she promises that everything we read will be the truth. Thus, right from the start, the reader knows that here is an unreliable narrator on steroids, so to speak. Larbalestier has stated on her blog that Micah's description of herself as mixed race (Caucasian mother, African-American father) teenaged girl living in New York City's East Village, as having loved Zach and been loved by him and as mourning him is true. (See http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/11/19/liar-question/#more-6897) Other than that, the reader must figure out for herself when Micah is telling the truth.
As the story unfolds, Micah is a student on half-scholarship at a small private school in Manhattan. Her boyfriend Zach has not shown for school and has been out of contact. Soon the whole school learns that Zach is dead, and that he was murdered. Thanks to all of her lies, such as telling people at the start of school that she was a boy, and then that she was a hermaphrodite and that her father was an arms dealer, Micah soon finds herself suspect number one in the eyes of the police. The rest of the book is Micah telling us what really happened. The book does not proceed linearly and sections have headers indicating Before and After.
Liar is a complex book written in a deceptively easy to read style. Micah makes an engaging narrator, and Larbalestier has done an excellent job capturing the voice of an adolescent girl. This is a difficult book to review because it is almost impossible to discuss and analyze the plot without revealing things the reader should not know in advance. Suffice it to say that Larbalestier has chosen her words carefully.
This is a book that ought, since there are moments where the reader will be surprised and then look back and think “perhaps I should have seen that coming,” to be read multiple times. It is a page-turner that I recommend reading quickly the first time in an “I have to find out what happens next” fashion and then re-reading slowly and carefully while trying to sort the truths from the perceived truths from the lies of omission and commission. Then decide what really happened. What I thought after my first reading is not necessarily what I thought after my second reading. I've come up with three interpretations of what I think happened. I know which one I like best, and I'll probably stick with that interpretation.
Liar is an enjoyable, frustrating, complex book and the reader will be reassessing what he or she though s/he knew every couple pages, but the novel is worth the work.