Review: The Secret to Lying, Todd Mitchell

I am writing this review from the wonderful coffee shop I frequent on weekend mornings, and there is a woman doing a crossword who just said “Who’s smart about children’s literature?” and then asked a question whose answer I did not know. Did not know! Even though I love children’s books! It was rather a blow to my self-esteem! If I don’t know the children’s books questions I don’t have any area of expertise. It made my heart sad.

What I am finding is that — leaving out Diana Wynne Jones, who is sui generis — I am not any longer able to do a steady diet of kids/YA books, even for just a week. Alas! for they often have such nice clear writing and straightforward storytelling, the latter of which I do not like to do without. Alas again! It is hard to find a sufficient quantity of grown-up books with clear storytelling! Although I did enjoy Some Kind of Fairy Tale and Tell the Wolves I’m Home quite an entire lot, all in one month.

Anyway. Doesn’t matter. Just is something I felt while reading, and articulated when I didn’t know the crossword.

The Secret to Lying is about a kid called James who goes off to boarding school (boarding school!), where he tells a big pack of lies (lies!) about his parents and background, in order to make himself seem tough and scary to his new classmates. He engages in numerous self-destructive behaviors, struggles with terrifyingly vivid dreams of fighting demons, and has IM conversations with a mystery classmate who claims that she is a ghost.

Eh. Not really my thing. The device of two teenagers IMing each other about how vapid and dishonest are the lives of all but just they two has cropped up too often in my YA reading lately. I think I am done with that device forever. Go read an Ayn Rand novel, you sullen teenagers! It won’t do harm to your political career later probably!

More generally, I never got a feel for the two main characters, James and the ghost girl who IMs him. James does all these self-destructive behaviors, to the dismay of his friends and relations, but it’s never really clear why he’s doing them. In an ideal world one should not respond to a protagonist’s every action with some version of “What’s your damage, Heather?” (I didn’t like Heathers and feel fine about the prospect of its sinking into oblivion as implied by an episode of Bunheads.)

The book just felt like Melina Marchetta-lite. Melina Marchetta-ish, but without the emotional heft.

(This lady’s crossword puzzle is being well and truly crowd-sourced. The milk delivery man just got in on the action. In fairness, Saturday crosswords are really hard.)

The only other review seems to be this one by Book Sp(l)ot Reviews, but let me know if I missed yours!