Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

4Q 3P; Audience: J/S (high school)

Micah started her high school career pretending to be a boy. That, she says, is one reason the other students shun her. Lying about her father being an international arms dealer didn't help. When her boyfriend Zach is reported missing and is later found dead, Micah can't share her anguish with anyone because nobody knew he was her boyfriend and nobody will believe her if she tells the truth now. Why should they believe her, after all the lies she's told? She also knows, or so she says, the horrifying truth about how it happened. Whether she should be believed is a completely different story. When a book is told by an admitted compulsive liar, then everything she says must be questioned.


I believe Micah is the liar she says she is. I also think she's telling the truth about being biracial and living in New York City. But pretty much everything else she says is open to question. I think she did know a boy named Zach, and that he really is dead. Exactly what her relationship was with him, exactly what she knows about his death, exactly how he died...I'm not willing to accept her word on those topics. I think she probably does have relatives who live a fairly secluded life up north, but are they really what she says they are? What she says about herself and the family secret...that's what has my head spinning the most. I think some readers will take it at face value, and for them, that will make this one sort of book. Other readers (me, for instance) will think there's something else going on entirely, despite what Micah says, and will therefore have a completely different reading experience.

Reading this book was a fascinating, frustrating experience. Because Micah constantly revises her story, each time saying that she lied before and this is the real truth, every event and every comment must be questioned. It's very unsettling. By the time she got to the big reveal about her family secret and what she really is and how that relates to Zach's death, I mistrusted her so completely that I can't accept her final say on the matter. I believe that not only is Micah lying to us, she's lying to herself. Her secret isn't the one she reveals to us. I think it's not so much a question of not wanting to tell the truth, but rather of not being able to face the truth. If she's what she claims she is, then she can't be held responsible for what she's done or may do in the future. But if she's not...

To be honest, I don't know what I think about this book. I finished it about two weeks ago, and I haven't written about it because I've been trying to sort out my thoughts. This is a book so open to multiple interpretations that it practically demands to be read and then shared with someone else. Whether or not that discussion changes the reader's interpretation isn't as important as exploring what those other possibilities are and why they do/don't work for the reader.

I expect this book to win awards, but I don't expect everyone will love it. Love it, like it, or hate it, it would make a terrific discussion book. For sure I'm going to try to sell my Pageturners group on reading it.

Comments are welcome on all my posts, but I'd especially like to hear what you think about this book.

(I haven't explored Justine Larbalestier's FAQ about Liar yet, but I'm about to. You may want to look at it too, but I gather you'll want to do it after you've read the book, as there are spoilers.)

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