Book Review: Lie by Caroline Bock

Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin

Published: 30th August 2011

Format: e-book

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 14+

Rating: 7.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘Everybody knows, nobody’s talking. . . .

Seventeen-year-old Skylar Thompson is being questioned by the police. Her boyfriend, Jimmy, stands accused of brutally assaulting two young El Salvadoran immigrants from a neighboring town, and she’s the prime witness. Skylar is keeping quiet about what she’s seen, but how long can she keep it up?’

LIE is a very hard book to read and review. It does what it sets out to do, which is tell the story of a violent hate crime and does it extremely well. But if you asked me whether I actually enjoyed reading it – I’d probably have to say no.

I expect a book like LIE to be hard-hitting and emotional. Bock captures the ugliness, hatred, and tragedy of this type of crime in a way that felt very real. Almost too real. There are few redeeming characters in this book. All of them are guilty, in one way or another, whether they actively took part in the attack or not. For keeping quiet about what really happened the night a young man ends up brutally beaten, fighting for his life. For looking the other way when groups of kids go out beaner-hopping for fun on Friday nights. For not speaking out against racist, hateful comments.

And therein lies the reason why I couldn’t love this book and why I suspect many don’t get on with it. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, because I didn’t like any of the characters (expect, perhaps, Skylar’s father who comes into his own by the end of the novel). And yet, that’s also what makes this book so powerful. Bock has written a brutally honest, raw account of a hate crime and offers it up with no apologies.

LIE is pretty unique in that it is told from ten different view points. Five adults, five teenagers. I personally think works well for this type of story, even though I found some narratives less successful than others.  Bock doesn’t give us a single character we can identify with and root for, rather she is showing us the devastating and ripple effect of a hate crime within a community and how everyone’s failure to do the right thing cost a young man his life.

It’s interesting that it is Jimmy who is in many ways the main character. He is on every page and yet we barely meet him and he never picks up the narrative. Instead, we come to see who Jimmy is through everyone else. It speaks volumes that it is the people closest to him, who fight for his release, that give the most damning portrait.

Skylar, Jimmy’s girlfriend, is perhaps the character we get to know the most. She is also the hardest character to understand. She is lying for Jimmy and has convinced herself he hasn’t really done anything wrong. Without her testimony there is a very good chance Jimmy will walk. Bock portrays a vulnerable young woman in an emotionally abuse and dependent relationship that initially evokes the reader’s sympathy. But Skylar’s continual refusal to do the right thing, her passiveness for most of the book and her callousness towards the victim’s family inspires frustration and no small amount of disgust in the reader. Whether she redeems herself in the end, is up to the individual reader to decide.

Seth’s narrative interested me the most. I can’t say I liked him, he’s a foolish, stupid kid who gets caught up with the wrong crowd and pays the price for his mistakes. But it’s the adults I condemn in this story. We see just how each and every one of them fails in their job, one way or another. Not one grown up offers guidance to these kids, or steps in when they should have done.

Despite the heavy subject, LIE isn’t preachy or melodramatic. I found some narratives out-of-place, disjointed and underdeveloped. Other’s, such as Jimmy’s fathers, were extremely well done, upsetting and difficult to read. Possibly the most thought provoking aspect of LIE is that these characters don’t read like pantomime villains. The are recognisable in some of the people around us. The saddest is that LIE was in fact, inspired by the real life hate killing of Marcelo Lucero in 2008, by a mob of teenagers.

LIE is a pretty powerful reading experience and a brave one. There is no happy ending here. But Bock tackles racism, bigotry, homophobia, classism, white privilege and peer pressure in a sensitive, subtle and intelligent way. If not enjoyable, this is certainly a book that needs to be a part of every teenage and adult’s reading experience.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Lie by Caroline Bock

  1. Amy,
    You clever young thing.
    I just happened on your site, and am very impressed with this review, so will pass the site details on to my teen girls, and will refer to your work when Christmas/birthday gifts are due.
    With very best wishes for your future in literature,
    Angie.

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