Monday, June 18, 2007

What's a little lie between friends?

Harmless by Dana Reinhardt
5Q 4P J/S

Have you ever lied to get yourself out of trouble? How'd that work for you?

Emma's a former tomboy who is trying to change her image, Anna's the straight-arrow perfect daughter who's just a little naive and dorky, and Mariah's the rebel who loves to show off her hickeys and brag about her boyfriend. They are best friends. Well, really, Emma and Anna are best friends - until Emma and Mariah have to do a scene from Romeo and Juliet together. Emma has begun to feel that she's outgrowing Anna, and Mariah offers her the tinge of sophistication and danger that Anna utterly lacks. Now it's more Emma and Mariah, and oh, yeah, Anna too. Mariah has made a bit of a name for herself in their private school. She's the coolest girl in the ninth grade, and she's dating DJ, a senior from the local public school. Neither Emma nor Anna are in her social circle until that R&J scene is assigned. But as the weeks go by and they begin to hang out together more and more, the friendship grows,

Events really start heating up when Mariah finally invites them not only to meet her boyfriend, but to party with him and some other kids from the public school. The girls tell their parents that they are having a sleepover and head off to the party. As soon as they get there, Mariah and DJ head upstairs. What they're doing up there is no mystery to either Emma or Anna, but they're soon too busy themselves to think much about it. They help themselves to pizza and beer and start getting to know the other kids. Anna watches as Emma turns into someone else right before her eyes. When did Emma get so good at drinking beer? When did she become so confident, especially with guys? When did she learn to throw her hair back like that, to laugh and flirt? When they start playing Quarters, the drinking game, nobody chooses Anna to drink, but everyone seems to be zeroing in on Emma, who is by now totally wasted. Sitting there, Anna realizes that Emma looks like someone they each someday wanted to be. She just didn't realize that Emma would get there so quickly or leave her so far behind.

And there it is. The party. Did any of them really have a good time? Will any of them admit that the answer is no? Not on your life. In fact, Emma's not saying much at all about anything. She clearly has something on her mind, but she's not telling.

A few days later, they tell their parents they're going to the movies and head to another party. But this time, things turn out just a little bit differently. DJ and Mariah go off upstairs again, but this time they get into a screaming fight. And this time, it's Anna who hooks up with someone and spends the night making out on the porch. That is, until Emma's cell phone rings. Her parents are at the movie theater and they aren't. Where are they? They're busted, that's where. How can they get out of this mess? Simple, says Mariah. They lie.

The lie goes like this: They went down to the river and lost track of time. Soon they realized they were too late to go to the movies, so they kept talking. Suddenly a guy came out of nowhere and grabbed Emma. They all started screaming, but nobody was around to hear them. The guy said he had a knife. He took their cell phones. He started to drag Emma to a few feet away and told her to take off her clothes. She refused. Mariah found a rock and hit the guy over the head with it when his back was turned. Anna kicked him as hard as she could, and then all three ran. They waited to be sure he hadn't followed them. They had no idea how long they waited. They were too scared to pay any attention to time.

What harm could a lie like that do? None, right? Not even when their parents insist that they report the incident to the police. They're careful to make sure that their description is too vague to lead the police to a suspect, so the lie is harmless, really. It just keeps them out of trouble.

Oh, one more thing about that lie. It not only keeps them out of trouble, it makes them famous. Everyone is talking about them. Everyone wants to know them. Mariah thinks it's no big deal. Anna is thrilled. And Emma...Emma gets quieter and quieter.

This book is told from each girl's viewpoint, and Reinhardt is very good at writing three distinct voices. I particularly like that each girl is three-dimensional and painted in shades of gray, not black and white. None of them is only what she seems to be on the surface, and each follows a distinctly different path as she discovers that some lies aren't harmless at all. This book is just as much about the lies we tell ourselves as it is about the lies we tell to the world. But Reinhardt manages to tell the story without beating her readers over the head with "let this be a lesson to you!" This is a very different story from her A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, but you'll care about these girls just as much as you did (or will) about Simone, and you'll feel just as much that these are girls who could be sitting across the aisle from you in homeroom.

(This is yet another book that I read weeks ago and am only now getting the chance to blog about, so although there were plenty of things worth quoting, I no longer have them marked and it's far too late (early, really) in the morning for me to hunt for them now. But trust me, they're there.)

Edited to add a link to Random House's author page on Dana Reinhardt.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Agree? Disagree? Something you'd like to say in response? Feedback is welcome! Just keep it on topic, please. And if you found one of my booktalks and used it, I'd love to know how it worked for you.