Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Harbinger is a Young Adult novel that examines the nature of truth, lies, and in a greater context, our view of reality. The story opens in a tattoo parlor where four kids have decided to get matching tattoos, except something happens just as the last kid, our narrator, is about to sit down for his. The four teens decide to escape to a remote cabin in the deep in the forest for a weekend of fun. As you can imagine, fun quickly turns to trouble as the towns people act in a hostile manner towards them and little things start happening: their satellite phone, the only link to the outside, goes missing and their car becomes disabled. Just when you think this is like so many other “locked room” mysteries with dead bodies piling up with no plausible explanation as to the culprit, author Harbinger adds another spin to the narrative. Not wanting to spoil the ending, this reader felt it was a bit too contrived and there was insufficient evidence given during the body of the narrative for the reader to have figured any of it out. If you like that sort of “final chapter reveal” you will love this one. This reader, however, in the end was not convinced by the motive given for the violence.
In addition to the plot line, the story also addresses the life, loves, and concerns of a gay teen couple. Harbinger, who founded a LGBT youth support group in his home town of Tacoma, Washington, has the credibility to successfully tackle this subject in a YA novel. I appreciated the scenes that illustrated the boys’ affection for each other and the insight it provided to “outside” readers, but felt some of the more sexually explicit scenes seemed included to make a point more than to flesh out a character or move a plot point. Overall, the writing is engaging, the voice of the narrator is strong, and the plot moves at a brisk pace.
Author Laurie Halse Anderson took on a tough issue in her new YA novel The Impossible Knife of Memory. The story opens with the main character, Hayley Kincain, attending high school in her dad’s home town and feeling alienated from the other kids, who she terms “zombies.” This is the first time Hayley has settled down in one spot since her dad returned from the war in Iraq with severe PTSD. Her life up to this point has been on the road in his rig, lurching from job to job, town to town. He has resolved that his daughter needs to be in one place for a while, but he has not resolved to seek help for himself–which is the real problem. Hayley has been forced into the role of parent to her dad, who is sometimes violent, moody, often drunk or drugged, and is becoming increasingly unstable. She hides the severity of his disfunction from friends, school officials, and her ex-step mother–the one person who understood and was willing to step up and help. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of such prize-winning works as Speak, does a masterful job illustrating the tension in Hayley’s life as she tries to keep her dad safe from others as well as himself. What the author fails to do is write a believable love story between Hayley and an oddball student, Finn. The dialog between these two characters is awkward, out of character, and often breaks the mood of the rest of the novel. I liked Finn and wanted to believe in their romance, but for me it didn’t work. Hayley in the beginning of the novel is such an unlikeable, bitter, and arrogant character that I was bored with her and tempted to put the novel down, but pressing on and with the revelation of more of her background, she became more sympathetic and softer. A good story, but overly long.
Jody Casella, first time author of “Thin Space,” has written an engaging YA novel that easily crosses the lines into mainstream. It is the story of a a teenaged twin who is consumed with guilt over the death of his brother. We are not told the circumstances of the car accident which took the life of one twin, and left the other alive, but severely injured. The story takes up with his recovery, and his all-consuming quest to find a “thin place,” a legendary spot where the boundaries between this world and the next are so thin, that a person can pass through. He is determined to find this place and make things right with his brother. Despite the paranormal premise of the novel, it is for the most part firmly grounded in reality. The author masterfully portrays the strained relationship between the teen and his grieving parents, struggling to find some normality in the situation. The author also is adept at creating teenagers who ring true, who, for the most part, act and speak like high schoolers. Despite the fact that the author is female, for the most part I did not read lines spoken from the teenaged boy and think, hmmm, that sounds more like a mature woman speaking. To her credit, Jody Casella has captured the angst and alienation of all teens, and especially one who has suffered an unbearable loss. A highly recommended read.