Book Review: Liar

November 27, 2009

I can’t expect to be believed.  I am the girl who cried wolf.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier is, true to the title, about a girl named Micah who is a self-professed liar.  Only this time she swears she’s telling the truth.

I bought the book–a rarity because I am a huge patron of the library–in order to support the change that was made after the cover controversy, but, honestly, I should have saved my money.  Or better yet, bought Magic or Madness.liar2

I did not like this book.  At all.

Wait.  That’s a lie.  There are things I liked about the book.  Overall, though, I found it to be a severely disappointing read.  Most of the reasons why have to do with the spoiler (don’t worry; this review will be spoiler-free), but that’s because the spoiler makes up such a huge part of the book.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  There are things about the book that I did like.

What I Liked

– I loved the first third of the book.  The book is divided into three parts, and part one is my absolute favorite.  I loved all of the relationships brought up in part one: everything with Zach, Tayshawn, Sarah, Yayeko, and even Brandon.  Just everything about the grief over Zach’s death (not a spoiler; it’s revealed in the first few pages), the different ways his friends came together, the way the school handled it.  I just enjoyed all of that a lot.

– The stuff with Micah’s family and her brother.  All of those relationships were ace as well.

– The book is well written in the sense that it’s easy to read, and the language is well-crafted.  I also read the whole thing and that’s because I genuinely wanted to know what would happen to the characters that I had grown to care about.

– Obviously, I’m pleased about the cover.

What I Didn’t Like

– Most of what I didn’t like about the book has to do with the spoiler, but I can talk about it without spoiling the book.  Basically, what I hated about it is that once the spoiler is revealed, the book stops being about what I thought it was about and starts being something completely different.

I thought that I was reading a book about a screwed up kid who was dealing with grief over the loss of a friend.  I was actually reading a book about spoiler.  And spoiler was not the book I signed up to read, nor was it the book I wanted to read.

The big problem is that once the spoiler is revealed, there is no sure footing in the story.  And while Larbalestier has said that she was aiming for an unreliable narrator, I feel the story misses the unreliable narrator mark and shoots straight into unreliable story.  That is, I get no sense of what is real.  There is nothing concrete to hang the story on; I can’t even believe what characters exist and what characters don’t.

I won’t blame the spoiler entirely for that.  Part of it is also the way the novel is crafted.  That is, Micah is talking to a reader that she addresses explicitly (“I will tell you my story and I will tell it straight”).  However, the real reader doesn’t know who “you” is, so when the novel turns into this big guesswork of a puzzle with too many lies to tell the truth, there is nothing to guide the real reader (that is, me) to know what I should expect to be true.

What I’m basically saying is that there is no established way for the reader to read the story.

I was trying to think of books that do the unreliable narrator successfully, and there are lots, actually, but the ones I enjoyed always were pretty explicit about why I couldn’t trust the narrator’s perception of the thoughts and actions of others, but never about how I couldn’t trust the narrator’s story at all.

So that’s what I didn’t like.

And since that’s the essence of the book, I didn’t like the book.  Which disappoints me because I have liked her other books, and I wanted this one to be spectacular because of the controversy and all.  But.  You know.  It happens.

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