Monday, August 30, 2010

Unreliable

With all the kerfuffle that occurred over the cover of the U.S. edition of Justine Larbalestier's Liar, something got lost -- at least off of my radar (which could just be because I wasn't planning an immediate read of the novel): This is one amazing piece of storytelling! And, it's almost impossible to tell you why because practically anything I say will truly spoil (and not spoil in the Team Peeta/Team Gale kind of way) every other reader's experience of the novel.

I think I am safe in saying that the liar of the title is Micah Wilkins. She attends an intentionally multicultural alternative high school -- although she mostly flies under the radar there as the other students think she's weird. She fooled them into thinking she was a boy for the first few days of freshman year and they've never forgiven her. Micah loves to run -- really fast -- and she has a running partner named Zach. Zach may, or may not, be Micah's boyfriend, but if he is, no one at the school knows it. Then, Zach's dead body is found in Central Park, and Micah's low profile is suddenly elevated as the students and the police attempt to figure out what happened to Zach.

Of course, this could all be a lie. Because Micah is a liar. She tells us this from the get-go and promises to come clean. But, despite her promise, she's succeeded in getting inside our heads and we truly don't know what is true and what isn't. And Larbalestier's (isn't that a great last name?) brilliance is that even when I finished, what I understand to have happened is probably completely different than what the eight other people who currently have this checked out of my library understand. Larbalestier has created some spoiler space on her blog where readers are discussing their interpretations and I found it eye-opening. But DON'T go there unless you've read the book first!

Because the novel has so many twists and turns -- and little bits of information that may or may not be useful, I'm not sure that listening is the best way to appreciate it. It's so hard to go back while listening, to doublecheck something that you think might be important, that having the book in your hand for flipping back and forth may be better. I'm wondering if my experience of the novel is really different from someone who's read it. I listened to the end twice and -- after perusing Larbalestier's spoiler space -- there were whole plot points and interpretations that I missed!

The reader is Channie Waites (pronounced Chain-ee). She does a fine job of lying teenaged girl with attitude -- impatient, superior, intolerant, and oh-so innocent when she needs to be. It was a nicely complex performance; when Micah announces that, yup! she's lied about this or that, Waites' chuckle was -- if I can say this -- silently audible. Waites has a pleasant voice to listen to and switches easily from both slight and more pronounced African American inflections to Latino to rich white girl. She's less successful at portraying her mother's French-accented English and resorts to generic quaveriness for her older relatives.

Waites' shortcomings as a narrator don't overshadow the power of this novel, but I'm not convinced that listening is the way to go here. Regardless, check out the author's experience listening to her book being recorded.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Narrated by Channie Waites
Brilliance Audio, 2009. 9:01 (unabridged)

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