Shortly before her 18th birthday, Shelby Jane Cooper is hit by a car in Scottsdale, Arizona, resulting in multiple fractures in her foot and ankle. While she’s lying on the ground, afraid and alone, a coyote steps up to her and says (telepathically):
There will be two lies, it says. Then there will be the truth. And that will be the hardest of all.
Almost immediately after Shelby is released from surgery and fitted with a CAM boot, her mother discharges her and announces that they’re going on a road trip. Nick Lake’s There Will Be Lies has been billed as a thriller in various places—including in the book’s own flap copy—but that’s not an entirely accurate description. There are mysteries, there is action, and there is stress, but despite parallel stories that both contain the various elements generally required for suspense (danger, uncertainty, antagonists) there is actually very little suspense.
Of the two storylines—straight-up realism during the day, and a fairy tale laced with Native American imagery at night—the daytime story is far more compelling, but even that only really picks up about two-thirds of the way through the book. In brief, There Will Be Lies is bloated; the eventual emotional and intellectual payoff doesn’t remotely make the slogging journey feel worthwhile. That’s problematic, but it’s also entirely subjective, and will depend on the taste of the reader. Less subjective is Shelby’s attitude about her mother’s weight and her somewhat nasty internal monologue about it, her use of the words “retard” and “cripple,” her strange logical leap about it being weird for an Apache to dream about waffles. But, while those things raised my hackles, I don’t require narrators to share my worldview, or to conform to my own personal beliefs on various subjects and about specific language. In other words, yes, all of that made me twitch, but none seemed outside of the realm of possibility for this specific protagonist.
But. The book set my cultural appropriation alarm bells off with a vengeance. Lake’s creation of Shelby’s Dreaming—in which elements from European fairy tales are mashed up with pieces pulled from actual existing Native American cultures and religious traditions—seems to equate the two in a way that made me profoundly uncomfortable. Due to the book’s brief cameo towards the end, I suspect that he was going for an American Gods vibe, but I couldn’t find a way of looking at this aspect of the book that made it work.
It does have strengths. There are two major reveals (one about Shelby herself, and one about her situation) and while I picked up on both of them long before the voilà moment, I was reading carefully—Lake didn’t overplay his hand in either case. Also, there’s a flat-out lovely thread about the importance of every living being: as every one of us can “trace a lineage right back to the start of life,” that we, each one of us, comes from a long line of survivors. Which is a really empowering thought.
Books with Similar Themes That I Enjoyed Far More:
The White Darkness, by Geraldine McCaughrean
A girl travels to Antarctica with her uncle, who turns out to be not nearly as trustworthy as she thinks. As in There Will Be Lies, it’s an adventure story with magical realism elements about a largely isolated protagonist who deals with some serious familial deception and betrayal.
The Storyteller, by Antonia Michaelis
This one isn’t for the faint of heart, but it, like There Will Be Lies, deals with the power of story—as a way to get through hard times, and as a way to get through the hard times that come after hard times.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.