Justine Larbalestier–Liar

not quite right, but closer than the first two tries....

When I was eight years old, my parents presented me with my (what I had thought of until that moment as “secret”) diary. In it, I recounted with great glee the three kisses I had shared with classmate Justin, who was cute liek woah. Brows furrowed,  my parents asked me, “Is this true?”

In stumbling eight-year-old terms, I eventually got around to admitting that, well, it wasn’t exactly true, in the literal sense. It was sort of, uh, more or less, completely made-up. Appeased, my parents gave the diary back to me, probably hinting that I would find it more useful if I reflected on things that had actually happened.

Although their reading experience begun with lies, my parents were able to leave that situation satisfied because when it ended, they were sure of the truth. Justine Larbalestier’s “Liar” provides no such closure. Its narrator, Micah, is a pathological liar. Whether she’s asked about something trifling or something significant, Micah can’t stop herself from answering questions with lies. Even after she vows to tell her readers the truth, she fails by her own admission.

From Diderot’s “The Nun” to Nabokov’s “Lolita,” unreliable narrators have told engaging (if not forthright) stories. The success of these stories relies on the author’s ability to convey the truth to the reader, despite the narrator’s limitations. We know darn well that Diderot’s Suzanne is no ingenue, and we know that Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert is the Creepy McLurkster of many a public service announcement, but neither Suzanne nor Humbert tells us. Instead, the writers craft the narrative in such a way as to allow us to see through their characters’ lies.

As I reached the final pages of “Liar,” I realized that Larbalestier was not going to whisper the truth in my ear. Was Micah responsible for the gory fate of her running partner (and maybe more), Zach? What really happened to Micah’s little brother, Jordan? That massive plot twist halfway through–is that true in the world of the book? I’m left wondering what actually happened to Micah, and “Liar” doesn’t deliver that information.

Don’t misunderstand me–the writing in this book is phenomenal. The story unfolds, re-folds, and unfolds differently through nonlinear segments with recurring titles. Larbalestier manages to provide ample sensory details without slowing the “can’t put it down” plot pace. She captures the physical world beautifully: smells carry painful memories, and bodies ache when they run hard. Her characters are believable and well-realized, except when she doesn’t intend them to be (as in the case of Jordan).

As far as I can tell, Larbalestier leaves it to the reader to decide the true version of events. If that is so, she succeeds in her goal, but I wish she had chosen otherwise. After sticking with Micah through lie after lie, I want the satisfaction of the truth.

Hand it to: Mature high schoolers, reluctant readers, Nancy Pearl’s “story” readers


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ari
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 19:46:16

    Awesome review! I loved Liar, especially how the reader has to draw their own conclusions about the story, what’s true and what’s not. You could argue about it for days :)

    The book is very well written, as is this review. Looking forward to more.


  2. Jessica Neiweem
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 14:41:33

    Thanks, Ari! :D


  3. Charlotte
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 16:18:16

    gosh, I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, but I’m not sure I can stand not knowing “what really happens!”


    • Jessica Neiweem
      Jan 25, 2010 @ 15:47:35

      Charlotte, don’t take my word for it! Maybe you’ll read it and take away something different… only one way to find out ;)

      Thanks for dropping by!


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