How much do you know about your narrator? Is she a good girl or bad girl?
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. The answer is usually a lot, since as a reader, you often spend the novel in that person’s head (I’m talking about novels written in the first person here). But in the past week or so, I’ve found myself reading books where the narrator may not be who you think she is. The first is Liar by Justine Larbalestier, a book that created a lot of buzz last year but I only got my hands on recently. The second is The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer, a book that doesn’t come out until May 2010 (and I was lucky enough to get a second-hand ARC).
Let’s start with the similarities: mysterious covers, female narrators, and a death right at the beginning of the book. In both cases, this is a boy who is the romantic interest of many people–a popular kid. And again in both cases, these girls are confused and kind of angry. But that’s where the perfect similarities stop. In Liar, it’s fairly obvious and fairly clear that our narrator, Micah, is a liar. She’s been called a liar her whole life and she demonstrates the ridiculous lies she has told to people which include her being a hermaphrodite. Nothing to mess with there. On the other hand, in The Deadly Sister, our narrator Abby is the good girl–the good sister to her drug-addicted runaway younger sister Maya who has most likely killed her GED tutor/boyfriend-type-person (who isn’t really her boyfriend at all). But somehow, both of these narrators are telling a story that feels a little bit off. A little bit contrived. A little bit perfect.
Now, if I go much further, I am going to start to spoil the crap out of these books. And let me tell you, The Deadly Sister was so creepily good, I would rather you read it yourself (and maybe scare yourself in the middle of the night like I did, to the point where I had to watch an episode of Ugly Betty to make the creepy feelings go away). I’m not that into creepy books but this is a creepy mystery/thriller and that appeals to me. Eliot Schrefer is the author of another thrillingly creepy book–and serious page-turner–The School for Dangerous Girls. The Deadly Sister is a great follow-up and a perfect read-alike.
On the other hand, I found Liar to be almost confusing. You know something is up and you know have to read closely from the beginning–especially if you paid any attention to the buzz around the content of this book (not the cover!). But maybe there wasn’t enough urgency in the book for me. Liar was more of a literary work. I could feel the way Larbalestier wove the various threads of the story together to give the reader a way to figure out what was going on. Schrefer just planted a lot of suspicion–and perhaps some threads that the real detail hounds would have noted early on. In some ways, these two books are perfect complements–you can watch the same beginning lead you down different paths. Beyond the initial similarities, the plots of these books are quite different and I think you’ll come to shockingly different conclusions about each narrator and story.
Bottom line: I love books that play with the narrator’s reliability as a storyteller. I’ve seen this a lot in recent teen books (including older titles like Inexcusable by Chris Lynch or Touch by Francine Prose) and it makes for so much fun reading, especially for writers and storytellers. I would love to know if there are great titles for adults that have the same type of narration that could be paired with these teen titles.