Review: Lie by Caroline Bock

Caroline Bock's website here // $9.99 from {amazon}
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (August 30, 2011)
Paperback: 224 pages
Source: Publisher (ARC)

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?  

But Jimmy was her savior. . . . 

When her mother died, he was the only person who made her feel safe, protected from the world. But when she begins to appreciate the enormity of what has happened, especially when Carlos Cortez, one of the victims, steps up to demand justice, she starts to have second thoughts about protecting Jimmy. Jimmy’s accomplice, Sean, is facing his own moral quandary. He’s out on bail and has been offered a plea in exchange for testifying against Jimmy.  

The truth must be told. . . . 

Sean must decide whether or not to turn on his friend in order to save himself. But most important, both he and Skylar need to figure out why they would follow someone like Jimmy in the first place.

My Thoughts: 

Caroline Bock's debut (solo) novel LIE is ambitious in its subject area, which leaves a lot of room open for both success and failure. Or, in my opinion, either being blown away or utterly disappointed. Unfortunately, I'd have to side with the latter.

I still can't get over how much potential LIE had. Caroline Bock really does a brilliant job of growing this small and sadly prejudiced town from the roots up. The nine (I counted) perspectives were unique, brutally honest, and clearly revealed how racism permeated all of their lives. I sympathized with Gloria Cortez's sacrifices for her dying family, accepted the pragmatism of the school principal, and understood Tommy Thompson feelings of failure as a father, to name a few. Caroline Bock skillfully captures the many grim facets of reality, and I loved it.

So, what's the problem? Perhaps that the premise was practically the only thing I enjoyed about LIE. Perhaps that the no-holds-barred access to the characters' minds was the one aspect that kept me reading. And, honestly, when I have to endure reading a novel, that's not a good sign.

The reason I wanted to put LIE down a few times can be summed up in one word: Skylar. If you've read my blog, you'll know I'm extremely character-centric when reading and reviewing. While reading LIE, I jotted down brief thoughts about every fifty pages and Skylar-related comments turn up every time: "frustrating," "so indecisive," "annoying," "brainwashed," etc. I can excuse the brainwashed feeling, but her constant dependence on others made me want to shove a spine into her. Gently... I think. Though maybe not when it comes to her dependence on Jimmy, since when she begins to question the town's beliefs, she quickly backs up to JimmyJimmyJimmy. My impression of their relationship was also one-sided dependence bordering on mutual obsession (...I wish that was cleared up more.), and, frankly, I'm not sure what to make of it. But I do believe she makes the right choice in the end, and I'm happy for her and what seems like the rebirth of a fragmented family.   

However, even if I understand her difficult circumstances, that doesn't mean I liked Skylar. Or her unreasonable anger towards her father for -- what I believe to be -- the inevitable and, thus, forgivable. Or her overall self-centered tendencies. Second wish: that I could have known at the end what happened to everyone else, not just Skylar who I'm not such a fan of. My favorite character was Sean, who seemed to be the only town member with a brain, and Skylar's best friend Lisa is interesting, if selfish and promiscuous. Again, another area that I would have like clarified but was left clutching at loose threads.

My other main problem was the writing style. I understand that with such a large number of perspectives, it's impossible to establish personality quirks for each, and I don't believe that's a major purpose of LIE. Caroline Bock does attempt to give the speakers distinct flavors with varying backgrounds and speech naunces, such as Tommy Thompson's "lookit." Yet I still felt like they were all one person due to the consistent writing style: short, concise, and dotted with poetic images à la those deep, moving, lyrical reads. Style variation between, say, Skylar and her father could have gone a long way towards fleshing out the two. That, and the clarification in perspective. It was disorienting for me (note: for me) how all the perspectives were told partially in stream of consciousness, then partially like a testimony of their past and commentary on the trial. But I suspect I may have missed the point here, sorry. 

AGH, I wanted to love LIE, but I just didn't. The writing is beautiful, but my lack of story investment made the symbols and imagery appear superfluous and the plot seem almost nonexistent. That being said, Caroline Bock tackles head-on a difficult issue, leaving not one dark corner spared, and I definitely hope to see the her return with more thought-provoking topics.
My Rating: 2 out of 5

Bottom Line: Telling it straight: I struggled with LIE. My heart hardly twinged for the majority of the characters, and I felt weighed down by the seemingly endless symbols and ponderings and background information and UGH. Mindset: must. get. through. this. But don't just cross LIE of your list because of my criticisms. Unless, perhaps, you're not much of a character-journey-little-to-no-action novel reader like I evidently appear to be. Though I like to think that I kind of am? I mean, I loved THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson and WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson... maybe LIE just wasn't for me. Especially since the majority of reviewers seem to be giving it strong praise that directly opposes my points (see review links below).

Even Kirkus gave LIE a star and disagrees (quote: "character-driven"). I do agree with Kirkus that LIE would be a solid source of discussion.

The Real Bottom Line (condensed): Ultimately, LIE is a deep exploration of a rich and girtty topic. Genius premise, not such a fan of the execution.

My Middle School Sister's View: Lie was meh. The plot was interesting but the characters didn’t pull me in. Aaaanywho, Skylar was annoyingly insecure, and Lisa Marie was mean. I mean, liking your best friend’s bf? And manipulating her for him? As for Sean, while I hated that he killed himself, I can understand why. Jimmy was my favorite character. Well, not favorite but he interested me the most. Offering two young immigrants a ride and then chasing/beating them with bats? Brutal. 

-- It took endless convincing for me to get my sister to write even such a short blurb about LIE. But I think having a middle school student's (8th grade) view is interesting as well, even if she seems to be as character-centric as me, haha. I must be a bad influence... Though I second that Jimmy sparked my interest, and I would definitely have liked to see things from his point of view. :)

Cover: I think it's a pretty accurate portrayal of what makes LIE, LIE. The vulnerability of the exposed neck ties in with Skylar's struggles and the picture frame in the background mirrors the influence of the past. So, for that, I like it.

The View from the Other-Side:
· The Irish Banana Review
· Bewitched Bookworms
· The Teen Bibliophile
· Nose in a Book, Head in a Blog
· YA Book Haven