Liar

By JUSTINE LARBALESTIER

Micah Wilkins, the provocative narrator of Justine Larbalestier’s fifth young adult novel, is a dedicated fabulist, “a third generation liar.” On the first day of high school, she pretends to be a boy; when she’s outed by her girlish laugh, she claims she’s a hermaphrodite. Four years later, Micah still lies — out of habit but also out of self-defense, because, like many a YA heroine, she doesn’t quite fit in with her peers. She’s “half black, half white; half girl, half boy; coasting by on half a scholarship.” She’s not actually half girl and half boy, but she is, as she eventually admits, half wolf. Though this revelation comes more than halfway through the book, most readers will have already guessed Micah’s secret, thanks to Larbalestier’s gently escalating hints; if they are anything like this particular reader, they will feel very pleased with themselves for having done so. But Micah’s werewolf-ism isn’t her primary problem: the real source of her trouble is the mysterious Central Park death of her secret boyfriend, Zach Rubin. Publicly, Zach dated a popular girl named Sarah; privately, he chose Micah. “I could hear his [heart] beating when I slept, taste his breath,” Micah thinks. “It was as if he’d crawled under my skin. Under it, always there. Even after he died.” Her grief is quickly complicated by a desire for vengeance: when the police announce that dogs killed Zach, Micah realizes the culprit is another heretofore unknown Manhattan werewolf. Larbalestier lets Micah’s story unfold in episodic and sometimes contradictory chapters (after all, when a congenital liar vows to “tell you my story and…tell it straight,” only the gullible will believe her). Despite her fibs and omissions, Micah is a sympathetic narrator, and her story — an unconventional blend of adolescent coming-of-age and psychological thriller — is hard to stop reading.