Rachel, after donning an inappropriately bright lipstick called “Little Red Lies,” welcomes her beloved elder brother, James, back from World War II.
Unfortunately, lies aren’t confined to the lipstick. James, deeply altered by the war, glosses over his disturbing experiences to his family, although letters he continues to write to Rachel—but has never sent—contain the truth of the brutality. Tragically, once safely home, he develops leukemia, a lethal illness in 1947. Rachel lies to him to convince him to visit a faith healer, whom she then recognizes as a fraud. Then she lies to her parents (and herself) about the intentions of a handsome but predatory teacher who’s playing up to her as well as other girls. After her mom conceives an unplanned baby, it’s concealed from both Rachel and James. When they discover, embarrassingly late, the cause of her weight gain, James feels convinced the baby is intended as a replacement for him. The seeming surfeit of subplots is believably explained and sensitively written, succeeding largely due to Rachel’s spunky though almost pathetically naïve first-person voice, which rings fully true. At one point, the whole town believes James has the clap, largely because Rachel overheard then repeated a conversation she didn’t understand.
Filled with bumbling characters who achingly love each other, this coming-of-age tale rises above a crowded field to take readers on a moving journey of discovery. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)