Jenny's Library

Archive for February 2012

cover image for LiarEverybody lies.  We say that we adore gifts that we hate, profess delight in meals that are lacking, and assure our parents that yes, our homework is all done.  For most of us, the lying ends there.  Not for Micah though, she doesn’t just tell the occasional white lie, she’s a compulsive liar.  “But [she’s] going to stop.”  She has to.  So pay attention, because she’s going to tell you the truth and she’s “going to tell it straight.  No lies, no omissions.”

Layer by layer, Larbalestier peels back Micah’s deceptions to expose the truth and banish the lies, but they are rarely what you’d expect.  Micah doesn’t pretend to know bands that she has never heard of, claim to own trophies that she never earned, or fake an illness to get out of class.  Rather, she decides to wear a Venetian mask to school – and forges a doctor’s note to justify it.

There is a peculiar and unexpected honesty in Micah’s fibs.  False as they are, they also let her push against the edges of conformity and let Micah be herself without forcing her to claim to know who she is when she doesn’t yet.   At the same time, they also act as role to play and hide behind – even from herself.

When her friend Zach disappears, however, Micah discovers that her lies might finally cost her more than just the goodwill of her peers.  No longer simply a cathartic confession of past sins, Liar quickly becomes an especially twisted kind of mystery, with Micah’s admissions of falsehood and guilt taking on the urgency of someone both digging for the truth and fighting for survival.

The twists and turns that Micah’s story takes also do more than keep readers on their toes. Because of the way that the story is structured, the lies rely as much on our assumptions of what constitutes normalcy as they do on Micah’s audacity. It’s beyond brilliant, exceptionally appropriate in a novel for young adults, and Larbalestier deserves nothing but praise for pulling it off.

This is a novel that, like Micah, refuses to be boxed in.  It’s not simply that it flirts with genres the same way that Micah plays with her identity.  Rather, like Micah herself, how you classify it and how much you enjoy it will greatly depend on which parts of her story you choose to believe.

Larbalestier’s clear understanding of the fandom traditions of genre fiction bleed onto the page, demanding that the conversation expand beyond the reading of the book itself.  Liar is a novel that is meant to be talked about, it’s value and interest is fundamentally tied to comparing notes and possibilities afterwards.  The obvious conundrum is that spoilers for a book such as this – even mild ones – would also impose points of view that would limit the discussions afterwards.

So when I tell you that you must read it – and now – know that I say this not just because I adored it, nor because it is lacking flaws, but because I am eager to hear what you thought of it.

Larbalestier, Justine. (2009). Liar. NewYork: Bloomsbury.

Best for Ages: 14-18

Find the Author @:


cover image for Wintergirls“It’s not nice when girls die.”

It’s even less nice when the girl was your best friend and her “body [was] found in a motel room, alone.”

Lia’s story begins not just with the death of her friend, Cassie, but also with Lia’s steadfast avoidance of the topic.  We quickly learn that this is a standard coping mechanism for Lia; even before this new tragedy, she routinely subsumed her anxieties about her future, and her frustrations with her blended family, into an obsessive need to be be thin.

“I take the cup from her.  My throat wants it my brain wants it my blood wants it my hand does not want this my mouth does not want this.”

Much of the brilliance in this book is found in the narrative style; Anderson is not afraid to play with typography, grammar, and punctuation in order to convey Lia’s fractured thoughts.  What could have been a confusing mess in lesser hands becomes a way to skillfully sink us deeper and deeper into Lia’s psyche.

As Lia continues to starve herself, her sorrow and fuel deprived brain work together to create haunting hallucinations of her dead friend.  The farther we fall with Lia into her rabbit hole, the clearer it becomes that she is not only full of despair but also anguish over her own actions – or lack thereof.  There is more here than just standard survivor’s guilt, though.  Even Lia’s constant repetition of the the numbers one through thirty-three – the number of times Cassie called her and only got voicemail that fateful night – is designed to distract her from thinking of other secrets.

…When I was a real girl, my mother fed me her glass dreams one spoonful at a time.”

At one point near the end of the book Cassie tells Lia that she has won, that she has been able to accomplish what Cassie could not.  It is this hollow victory that starts Lia on the road to recovery.  As hard as Lia tries to believe in the possibility of perpetually existing in this limbo state of dying by inches, the death of her friend makes it so that she cannot hide from the truth any longer.  By the end of the book, Lia has decided that she would at least like to try not being a wintergirl, however difficult that may be.

“I take the razor blades out of the bag…inscribe three lines, hush hush hush, into my skin.  Ghosts trickle out.”

It would be rather easy to present Lia as a privileged, middle class teenager whose inability to cope with the pressures of her life are easily dismissed as merely a sign of weakness or immaturity.  Instead Anderson accomplishes the much more difficult task of showing us how young and vulnerable Lia was when the process began, and how this disease in particular creates a dangerous feedback loop that is incredibly difficult to break free from.

Wintergirls is one of the most powerful and unique young adult books I have read, and I strongly recommend it.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. (2009). Wintergirls. New York: Viking.

Best for Ages:  14 to 20

Find the Author @