If the Witness Lied

If the Witness Lied

4.2 18
by Caroline B. Cooney

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This young adult thriller takes place in twenty-four hours and explores how people as well as the media can exploit a situation with devastating results, especially when innocent children are involved.
Jack Fountain knows that what’s happened to his family sounds like the most horrible soap opera anyone could ever write. But it’s


This young adult thriller takes place in twenty-four hours and explores how people as well as the media can exploit a situation with devastating results, especially when innocent children are involved.
Jack Fountain knows that what’s happened to his family sounds like the most horrible soap opera anyone could ever write. But it’s all true. It happened—to his parents; to his sisters, Smithy and Madison. And to his baby brother, Tris. What made it worse was that the media wanted to know every detail.
   Now it's almost Tris’s third birthday, and everything’s starting again. Aunt Cheryl, who’s living with the Fountain children, has decided that they will heal only if they work through their pain—on camera. It will be a field day for the media, and no one, except Cheryl, wants that. Jack and his sisters gear up to keep Tris’s adorable face off-screen, but they quickly realize that there is more at stake than their privacy. The very identities they’ve created for themselves are called into question. What really happened the day of their father’s accident?
   The Fountain siblings have less than twenty-four hours to change their fate. Together, they will ask questions no one asked at the time of the tragedy. And together, they vow that this time, they will not be exploited.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Readers will be unable to put down Cooney's latest thriller. Jack, 15, lives with his two-year-old brother, Tris, and his aunt, while sisters Smithy and Madison are living elsewhere. Taking place on a single day, the novel switches between the viewpoints of the older family members and a teenage neighbor. Early hints point to Tris being a controversial figure, and it is gradually revealed that he is believed to be the cause of his parents' deaths (their mother delayed chemo to give birth to him). But as the day wears on and the siblings reunite, whether or not Tris inadvertently caused their father's death (the parking brake on his Jeep was released and it rolled over him) comes into question. Additionally, a religious undertone has several characters rethinking their relationship with God. Adding to the family's misery, their aunt has arranged for their lives to become a TV "docudrama," hosted by a man so sleazy he asks Smithy, "What was it like to realize your mother would rather die than bring you up?" Cooney masterfully ratchets up the tension in each scene and delivers fully in the exhilarating conclusion. Ages 12-up. (May)

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VOYA - Kevin Beach
The Fountain children have had it bad for the past two years. Their mother became the focus of media attention when she decided to forego cancer treatment and sacrifice her own life in order to bring her last child to term. Then, at age two, the toddler Tris is involved in a driveway accident that kills his father. The ensuing media circus divides the three older siblings: one moves to a neighbor's home, one lives in a boarding school, and one stays at home to keep an eye on Tris and a suspect relative. A manipulative, uncaring step aunt who has lived in their house since their mom died begins exerting full control over the house, eradicating any evidence of their parents' presence. As their father's birthday comes and goes, all three siblings separately realize the need to reunite and reestablish their family for the sake of young Tris. When the aunt contacts a TV producer to put the family back on public display, the children know they have to nip it in the bud and expel their aunt from their home. Meanwhile evidence that the tragedy in their driveway was not an accident but an act of murder puts them all in danger. Cooney's psychological thriller holds the reader's attention as the resourceful youth hatch their plan. The siblings' emotional conflicts are also explored as they cautiously reconnect with one another. Although the conclusion is somewhat unrealistic, the author delivers yet another exciting page turner. Reviewer: Kevin Beach
Children's Literature - Cynthia Levinson
The author of nearly two-dozen books for young people, several of them award-winners, Cooney has written an intriguing novel that is not only suspenseful and fast-paced but also thought-provoking about the roles and identities of adolescents. As revealed through tantalizing disclosures and multiple perspectives, the story concerns the Fountain children, teenagers Jack, Madison, and Smithy, and almost-three-year-old Tris. Their mother died shortly after Tris's birth because of her decision to protect him rather than undergo the chemotherapy that would have saved her life. Their father died a year later when the family's van crushed him, apparently because Tris released the handbrake. Thus, Tris is blamed for both of their parents' deaths. Madison reacts to this dual tragedy by moving to a friend's house. Smithy goes to boarding school. Jack stays home to take care of Tris. And, spooky "Aunt" Cheryl moves in, allegedly to help him. Throughout their ordeals, the Fountains have had to withstand intrusions from the press. When Cheryl calls the press back for a reality-show expose, the children re-group. In doing so, they not only re-make their family, they also uncover the real reason for their father's death. The plot contains some unlikely coincidences and overly neat discoveries, and the unremitting quality of Cheryl's venality is hard to believe. Nevertheless, the Fountain children are fully drawn, and readers will want to accompany them as they learn about themselves, each other, and their past. Reviewer: Cynthia Levinson
School Library Journal

Gr 6-9

Three orphaned teenage siblings, separated by the tragic supposed patricide of their father by their two-year-old brother, reunite a year later to save this same brother from the clutches of their evil aunt, who wants to sell them out on a tell-all television show. The plot involves a lot of aimless meandering around their small Connecticut town, the characters are unremarkable, and the title, of course, gives away the mystery, but, as with all of Cooney's novels, the joy is in readers being more clued in than the hapless characters. Thus every chapter, narrated alternately by each sibling, ends with a successful degree of suspense. Contemporary technology-texting, cell phone videos, digital photography, online bank accounts-plays a weighty role; initially the reliance upon them aids each character's unhealthy distance from one another, but by the conclusion, it has become the link between them, creating laughably miraculous resolutions at every turn. A Christian theme pervades as well, as the siblings each question their relationship with God as well as with one another, and inevitably resolve both issues simultaneously. Fans of previous Cooney offerings will enjoy this, but most others can pass on it.-Rhona Campbell, Washington, DC Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
Cooney's new psychologically penetrating page-turner immediately grabs readers then hangs on tight up to its satisfying conclusion. Three separated orphan siblings reunite to save their little brother and themselves from a media circus; while doing so, they discover not only that their father did not die accidentally as they had thought but that there is a murderer in their midst. Since the untimely deaths of their parents received saturation coverage in the media, the Fountain children have splintered. Jack, 15, lives with his uncaring step-aunt Cheryl and his almost-three-year-old brother in the family home. Madison and Smithy, Jack's sisters, unable to cope with the notoriety, have moved away. But now Cheryl has contacted a TV producer who plans to put the family on public display, which none of them wants. The author adds depth to this fast-paced thriller by charting the siblings' difficult emotional journeys as they try to reconnect and reconfigure their familial roles, while realizing their battered but still surviving solidarity. (Thriller. 12 & up)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


The good thing about Friday is—it's not Thursday. Jack Fountain lived through Thursday, and nothing bad happened: no cameras, no microphones.
Of course, nothing good happened either. Jack did not hear from either of his sisters.
Their father's birthday—and Jack and Madison and Smithy pretended it wasn't there; that November fifth was just another day.

And in fact, thinks Jack, walking into the high school cafeteria, it was just another day. Dead people don't have birthdays.

Around him, hundreds of kids are buying lunch, skipping lunch or finding lunch partners. His goal is to be normal, although the Fountain family stopped being normal a long time ago. Jack is considering his options when Diana Murray walks past. "We need to talk," she murmurs.

This seems odd. How would Diana know about Dad's _birthday?

But Diana does not pause beside Jack. She keeps walking, moving casually out of the cafeteria and into the hall.

If Diana doesn't want anybody to overhear their conversation, then this is not about a birthday. This is about Jack's baby brother, Tris. Something else has gone wrong; something Jack hasn't planned for. Diana is on the Tris protection team. It's a small group. Usually a two-year-old has parents to protect him, but Tris is not that lucky. He has only his big brother and his babysitter.

Jack returns his brown plastic tray to the clean pile and strolls away, as if merely leaving the hot line for the salad and sandwich line. Then he drifts out of the cafeteria and down the hall, where Diana is leaning over the watercooler.

Because of Tris, Diana knows more about Jack than he wants her to. But then, the world knows more about Jack than he wants it to. His friends love to display their lives on video sites, but they get to choose what's out there. Jack doesn't.

The last few students with first lunch hurry past. Jack stands behind Diana, pretending to wait his turn for a drink of water. He braces himself for a Tris nightmare. He's trapped in his failure-to-breathe mode: a clenched, solid feeling, as if he's a different species, and will now function without oxygen.

Diana speaks so quietly that Jack has to bend down to hear. He's grown almost six inches this year, making him the tallest sophomore, as well as the best known. Jack is popular. It's partly because he is the one who stays, the one who gives up everything, including varsity, to take care of Tris. But mostly, it's because he's been on television.

Television hung out in his yard, focused on his face and attended the funerals. Of all his classmates, only Diana grasps that television is a force in destroying his family, and even Diana tells Jack how adorable he is in that shot where he lifts up his baby brother and carries him home.

Jack's cheek touches the thick, curly black hair Diana never seems to brush or trim or even know about. Diana's voice barely makes it through her hair. "Tris was playing outside this morning, before your aunt Cheryl took him to day care. When he saw me, he raced over to say hi."

Jack imagines his brother's little legs pumping as he hurries over two front yards to the Murray house. It's a true escape, because Aunt Cheryl usually takes Tris straight from the breakfast table to the car seat.

"Your aunt Cheryl was looking really annoyed, so I hauled him back and put him in his car seat for her."

Why do girls have to give so much data? Jack manages to breathe a little, slow and stealthy, as though he's keeping his lungs a secret. A pinpoint headache sparkles behind his eyes, like a tiny firecracker going off.

"I distracted your aunt Cheryl by asking about her plans for the day. She starts talking in this hysterical voice about closets and clutter. She's going to clean out your bedroom and paint it, Jack. She knows you'll never say yes, so she's doing it before you can stop her."

Laughter bursts out where panic has been building. This isn't about Tris. It's about one of Aunt Cheryl's silly TV shows. She lives for programs where people paint their walls. When she turns on the TV—actually, she never turns it off—she isn't hoping for a good movie with a car chase. She wants to see the lid pried off a paint can. She wants to gaze upon the sewing of window treatments. Her life's dream is to be a guest on such a show. Or any show.

Jack straightens up, grinning and breathing normally. His headache vanishes as fast as a change in the weather. "So who are you, then?" he teases. "Diana Murray, secret agent for remodeling plans?"

Diana looks up soberly. "The afghan your mother knit you? Your aunt Cheryl doesn't like the colors. The tickets from when you and your dad went to the World Series? Your aunt Cheryl doesn't like the frame. Your closet? Stuffed with junk? Your aunt Cheryl wants to chuck it."

Aunt Cheryl will throw anything out, so Jack habitually checks the trash cans. But it has not occurred to him that she might invade his very own closet. He cannot let this happen. His most precious possessions are on the floor of that closet.

The headache comes back so savagely Jack feels as if his brain is being dragged on the pavement, like a broken muffler scraping under a car.

Back when it happened, Jack believed everything would be okay. After all, the ambulance came quickly; the police gathered. These were professionals in his driveway. Jack was reassured. When they agreed to let Jack go along to the hospital, he walked over to his father's Jeep, reached through the open door, and got the sunglasses and cell phone, lying as usual in the little well next to the parking brake.

Dad will need these, Jack thought. He never travels without them.

But it turned out that Dad was traveling to another world, where he would not, in fact, need them. And since he wouldn't need his watch or wallet, either, the hospital turned these over to Jack as well.

Jack cannot bear to touch or even look at them. But neither can he bear to lose them. They're inside Dad's steel-toed work boots, stowed in the back of the closet, where they're safe but he won't have to think about them. (After it happened, not thinking became a family specialty. It's hard to say whether Jack or Smithy or Madison is best at it.)

It's eleven-twenty.

If Aunt Cheryl has started her project, she could already have taken a carload to the dump. Actually, there is no dump anymore. There's a transfer station, which is worse. At a dump, Jack could poke around and retrieve things. But at the transfer station, belowground, where open metal containers guarded by a sanitation crew are eventually hooked up to trucks and driven away, nobody's going to let Jack jump down inside to hunt for old boots.

Meet the Author

Caroline B. Cooney is the author of many books for young people, including the bestseller The Face on the Milk Carton (an IRA-CBC Children’s Choice Book) and its companions, Whatever Happened to Janie? and The Voice on the Radio (each of them an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults), as well as What Janie Found; Three Black Swans; If the Witness Lied; They Never Came Back; Diamonds in the Shadow; A Friend at Midnight; Hit the Road; Code Orange; The Girl Who Invented Romance; Family Reunion; Goddess of Yesterday (an ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book); The Ransom of Mercy Carter; Tune In Anytime; Burning Up; What Child Is This? (an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults); Driver’s Ed (an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults and a Booklist Editors’ Choice); Among Friends; Twenty Pageants Later; and the Time Travel Quartet: Both Sides of Time, Out of Time, Prisoner of Time, and For All Time, which are also available as The Time Travelers, Volumes I and II.

Caroline B. Cooney lives in South Carolina and New York.

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If the Witness Lied 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
The four Fountain children are orphans. They first made headlines when their mother gave her life to save that of her unborn fourth child. The controversy centered on her battle with cancer and her refusal to accept chemotherapy at the risk of harming her unborn child. Overzealous news reporters portrayed baby Tris as his mother's killer. The second time the family hit the headlines was when a tragic accident killed their father. Once again, little Tris was labeled as guilty of killing his remaining parent. Now the media has been called in by their faithful guardian, Aunt Cheryl. She believes that facing their tragic situation in front of television cameras in a docudrama is the only way to help the children deal with the ghosts of their past. In the year since their father's death, young Jack has remained in the family home, helping Aunt Cheryl with the care of almost three-year-old Tris. His sisters, Madison and Smithy, chose to head their separate ways, one to live with godparents and the other to attend boarding school. Now, both girls have realized the importance of family and are returning home to discover startling developments regarding their father's accident. Could it be that the one witness of the horrible event may have lied? Could that witness actually be a murderer, and how can three teens and one toddler prove it? Caroline B. Cooney is known for her mystery and suspense. IF THE WITNESS LIED is one of her best. The tragic family portrait she creates is sure to captivate readers from page one. It is difficult to imagine the pain and suffering these characters have been dealt, and then to throw in a potential evil so cleverly disguised, it becomes a story almost impossible to put down. Once teens get the word on this one, it won't stay on bookshelves long.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book a lot... until the end the ending is so rushed its like on the last two pages its like the author ran out of ideas and i even like caroline b. Cooney so the rushed ending was a real shock to me :/
Rowdycat More than 1 year ago
Through two tragedies--their mother dying from cancer shortly after Tris is born and their father being killed in what was thought to be an accident--Tris' siblings, a brother and two sisters fall apart. Tris is blamed for killing his mother because she chose his birth to be more important than her life and at two-years-old causing his father's death in a freak car accident(?). Things come to a head about a year after their father's death.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its definately a musy read. Definately suggest for any age. Nothing inapproite at all.
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mackenzie nichols More than 1 year ago
I loved this book so much once i started to read it i could not put it down
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goodgirl96 More than 1 year ago
I hate this book you knew who the killer was in chapter 2. What is the point in a mystery if you know when it starts who the killer is. I was really mad. I had to read this for a school book club if I did not I would be kicked out I had to force myself to read it.