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The Secret to Lying

The Secret to Lying

4.4 9
by Todd Mitchell

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James was the guy no one noticed - just another fifteen-year-old in a small town. So when he gets into an academy for gifted students, he decides to leave his boring past behind. In a boarding school full of nerds and geeks, being cool is easy. All it takes is a few harmless pranks to invent a new James: fighter, rebel, punk. Everyone's impressed, except for the


James was the guy no one noticed - just another fifteen-year-old in a small town. So when he gets into an academy for gifted students, he decides to leave his boring past behind. In a boarding school full of nerds and geeks, being cool is easy. All it takes is a few harmless pranks to invent a new James: fighter, rebel, punk. Everyone's impressed, except for the beautiful "Ice Queen" Ellie Frost and the mysterious ghost44, an IM presence who sees through his new identity. But James is riding high, playing pranks and hooking up with luscious Jessica Keen. There's just one thing awry: he's starting to have vivid dreams of being a demon-hunting warrior, a thrill that is spilling over into dangerous and self-destructive acts while he's awake. As he's drawn deeper into his real-life lies and his dream-world conquests, James begins to wonder: What's the price for being the coolest guy around?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Mitchell's (The Traitor King) engrossing and entertaining novel, the trick to the titular secret, according to 15-yearold James, is to "believe yourself and others will believe you, too." And in his first year at an elite public boarding school, he reinvents himself by doing just that. A punk haircut and a few casual lies about getting into fights and stealing cars convinces his fellow students that he's a tough rebel instead of the milquetoast he'd actually been. James enjoys all that comes with his new life--from makeout sessions with sexy, punk Jessica to the pranks he pulls with his outsider friends ("I figured my place in the trio would be to play the quiet, brooding rebel"). James also engages in late-night IM conversations with someone named ghost44, who seems to know too much about him, and deals with a series of disturbing dreams in which he's forced to confront his internal demons. Mitchell paints a vivid picture of teenage social and mental health issues, neither overdramatizing nor understating their impact, and the result is a great read. Ages 14-up. (June)
VOYA - Kevin Beach
James is about as anonymous as someone can be in high school, drifting through his classes without making an impression. He has a secret. In order to feel anything, he must cut his arms. When he is admitted into an exclusive academy for gifted students, he feels he has a chance to start over, but immediately bases all his new friendships on a lie—that his cuts are from street fighting and that he is a "cool" nonconformist. As he builds upon this lie, two things happen. First, a secret acquaintance known only as Ghost44 begins messaging him on his computer. She seems to know he is a fake and challenges him to come clean. He also begins having realistic dreams in which he battles demons in an underworld city overrun by huge insects. He wakens from these dreams with new cuts on his body. Will his continuing antics at school get him expelled? Is the beautiful but anorectic student known as "the Ice Queen" his secret contact, or is it his flighty girlfriend? Is it a girl at all? Are the demons of his dreams really emerging into his waking hours on campus? These themes and the real issues of cutting and eating disorders are confronted in a poignant and interesting fashion. The author's previous book The Traitor King (Scholastic, 2007/VOYA June 2007) attracted a middle school audience. Themes and dialogue make this one more appropriate for the high school reader. Todd provides a thought-provoking look at intelligent kids and the trouble isolation and loneliness can create. Reviewer: Kevin Beach
Children's Literature - Kristina Cassidy
James Turner feels invisible throughout his freshman year of high school. He plays football, but no one notices him, and he is just coasting by in his classes. When he is asked to apply to a prestigious public boarding school, James jumps at the chance to start over somewhere new. Once at school, James remakes himself with hair dye and a series of lies about his past. Before long, the other students see him as a sullen rebel, a reputation that James cultivates but is not necessarily sure of. James begins to have strange dreams in which he fights demons, but the story does not veer into the supernatural. Instead, James begins acting out in more extreme ways to solidify his reputation, alienating his new friends, putting his life in danger, and pushing him to the edge of expulsion from school. James' struggles will be familiar to teen readers, and the resolution shows readers that true change does not happen overnight. Teachers and parents should be aware of characters' alcohol use, sex, and some violence, as well as characters who engage in cutting and anorexic behaviors. Reviewer: Kristina Cassidy
School Library Journal
Gr 9–11—In his old high school James, 15, was unremarkable, "the guy no one noticed." When he's offered a scholarship to a public boarding school for intellectually gifted students, he accepts. He is done being a dull, boring nobody and sees ASMA (American Science and Mathematics Academy) as a chance to reinvent himself. How hard could it be to impress a bunch of overachieving nerds and geeks? With purple spiked hair, grunge clothes, and a few little lies, James has most of them convinced he's from the wild side, a street-fighting punk with pyromaniac tendencies. His scars help propagate the tough-guy image, though they are real, and self-inflicted. James's character is compelling as he straddles the line between fantasy and reality, builds friendships, pulls off outrageous pranks, and deals with the angst of first love. He and his friends are real teens—funny, intelligent, and still a bit vulnerable. Sensitive readers will make an emotional connection with James and root for him to overcome his demons, both real and imagined. Teens will also relate to the poignant IMs between him and the enigmatic persona of ghost44, who tells James, "I can't be myself in person." This coming-of-age novel is imbued with wry humor and offers a thoughtful take on the importance of learning to live in your own skin.—Patricia N. McClune, Conestoga Valley High School, Lancaster, PA
Kirkus Reviews
For James, a freshman loser with virtually no friends, reinvention comes in the shape of the American Science and Mathematics Academy, an exclusive public boarding school made up of nerds and geeks. He dyes his hair purple. He makes up wild street-fighting stories that awe his new friends. Pranks, stunts and dangerous trysts with bad girls ensue. Despite his new guise, James realizes he must confront the demons that give him nightmares and induce him to cut himself. When he meets Ellie, a beautiful, standoffish loner, he understands that the task is going to be much harder than expected. Mitchell tells a straightforward, from-the-gut story that mostly feels real, despite some hard-to-swallow moments at the end. His characterizations ring true, especially James's hilariously goofy dorm mates. Comparisons to John Green's Looking for Alaska can't help but be drawn, however, especially since the two share so many similar elements. Despite the fact that Green's work is miles ahead of Mitchell's, the latter's voice is definitely one to watch. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
HL730L (what's this?)
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Todd Mitchell is the author of the middle-grade novel THE TRAITOR KING. THE SECRET TO LYING is his debut novel for YA readers. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Secret to Lying 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Great story! Cant wait to see what happens next!
Anonymous 11 months ago
Aw. How lovely.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really lied his book and found it relateable. Ther ewere some parts that seemed unnecesasry though
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Moving to ASMA (American Science and Mathematics Academy) gave James a chance to change himself. No longer would he be the nerdy guy who didn't get a date or any attention. No longer would he be invisible. Instead, James can start a new life. Through lying. Suddenly, James is seen as someone exciting. Sure, he's going to a school for math and science, but there is a definite sense of coolness about him now. He hangs out with his roommate, Dickie, and another boy dubbed Heinous. Together, they are a group of three troublemakers who pull off the occasional theatrical display and somehow manage to be respected by some at ASMA. James also has something else going on at school. Or someone else. Ellie, aka the Ice Queen, is one of the most popular sophomore girls. She expertly ignores him, but he can't help but like her. His lies grow as his crush on her grows, and soon he finds himself talking to a mysterious stranger on IM named ghost44. He also begins to have strange dreams where he fights demons for two strangers named Nick and Kiana. Who is ghost44, and how can James manage to keep his real identity throughout all of the lying? Mitchell creates a character the reader is intrigued by. James keeps his distance as the center of our story, and remains an enigma throughout. From the first page we see him build up an identity that isn't really his, pretending to have gotten into street fights and even cutting himself. It's rather a slow trend into his depression, and it's very dark and broken - much like the cover of the novel. He's rather unlikable sometimes, but the author's intent is rather obvious. As the reader, you are not supposed to like this journey at the beginning. James is, after all, denouncing himself. I also appreciated the way he worked on relationships. James is curious about sex and does date someone named Jessica early on, but he quickly recognizes his feelings for her aren't really romantic. He is honest about this, and it was nice not to have a love triangle going on, or having a main character convince themselves that they should, in fact, be in love with said person. Mitchell treated the relationships realistically, and that was a highlight for me. I also enjoyed the friendship between Heinous, Dickie, and James. It was close but not super-close. It felt realistic considering the emotional distance James has and the way that teenagers have superficial relationships. Some parts of the novel were not very exciting; this definitely isn't an action-adventure novel. James' emotional distance also hinders the reading experience somewhat, as you don't always feel emotionally invested in his story. There is also a level of complexity in the novel that, while interesting, makes it hard to get into for this type of read. The dreams are short and fairly average, but with ghost 44...they will make the reader try and search hard for a message that will not be easily apparent at the beginning of the novel. Overall, it is just a slower experience for the reader. It may hinder some, but it makes the book a deeper and more interesting read. If you are looking for a book that is completely original with a gritty take on teenagerdom, THE SECRET TO LYING is right up your alley.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maeve33 More than 1 year ago
This book really surprised me. I've read other reviews that compared it to John Green's Looking for Alaska, probably because it takes place in a boarding school, with witty, intelligent characters who pull lots of pranks. But beyond that, these books take very different paths. The Secret to Lying is narrated by James, a high school sophmore who is desperate to be someone. So when he gets into a school for students gifted in math and science, he decides to reinvent himself as the person he literally always dreamed of being. He tells some outlandish lies, and the geeks believe him. But his new found fame comes with a price, as his identity fractures. The book integrates three interlacing story lines in a totally unique way. One is James' quest to be popular. Another is an I.M. affair he carries out with the eloquent ghost44, who sees through his lies. And the third depicts James's internal struggle, as his fictionalizing of himself results in his being trapped in an a dark city overrun by demons where he fights to win control of what perhaps should not be controlled. It's a potent illustration of how all problems, in essence, exist in our minds. There's some heavy stuff here --anorexia, cutting, drinking, and other self-destructive behaviors. What the Secret of Lying does fantastically well, though, is to explore the reasons behind such behaviors in a dramatic way that avoids simplification. Quite simply, it's a book about being. As a teacher, I'm always on the lookout for honest, interesting books to recommend to smart teens who are struggling to figure out how to be themselves. I'm also always on the lookout for books that might appeal to teen boys. This one definitely does both --and will go down with some of my all-time favorites such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Catcher in the Rye as an edgy, honest, powerful book to remember and pass on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This coming of age story gives a very real and yet original portrayal of the struggle and cost of finding one's niche in high school. The writing is engrossing, edgy, deep, authentic, and wildly witty! Great read! My favorite book of the year. I'm eager to see more from this author!
A_Good_Addiction More than 1 year ago
A train wreck waiting to happen and an artful blurring between reality and fantasy, The Secret To Lying masterfully delves into one teen's struggle to be noticed. The boy who was often forgotten, James finds himself at a new school with a fresh start. With opportunity ample before him, he holds nothing back in the stories he comes up with regarding his past- until it becomes too much even for him. On a shallow level, this book is about lying and reaping what's been sown. On the deeper level Mitchell incorporated, this book is the epitome of teenage confusion and a struggle to find one's self. A coming of age novel mixed with moralistic questions, The Secret To Lying is a refreshing read for any age. James' internal struggles, debates and fears aren't hidden, clearly driving much of his actions throughout the book. Unable to see far enough in the future to realize the path he is on and resistant to help, James does nothing but continue to delve deeper into the darkness that threatens to engulf him. James is masterfully done, making a complete character change early on as soon as he starts at his new school before developing through great strides by the end of the book. There are three different characters seen throughout centered with this one person and Mitchell has created a unique, memorable and promising method to bring about each one. Subtly touching on many areas of psychological, rationalization and motivations, James is a character any teenager- male or female- will relate to. Even the most outwardly confident teen will find some consolation in James' struggles and from an outside perspective, his decisions and chosen methods to deal with the demons battling inside him can easily be identified as inept. From inside James' head, however, the reader can easily understand the drives behind his lying and other things he does. Mitchell holds nothing back when he puts this character on display, creating a strong emotional connection between reader and damaged character. In his journey to finding himself, James encounters a range of characters and because of the ASMA school setting, the social groups are different. This is a place where the geeks can be bold without repercussion, the nerds can be popular and being smart is idealized rather than ostracized. In some ways, James attending a boarding high school is much like a college freshman, suddenly rapt with new opportunities and no parental supervision. While some handle it smoothly, others go overboard and given his mental state starting at the school, James' actions are easily understood. Enter Jess, a punk style girl who shows interest in him and though an attraction is there, it is clear to both the reader and even James other things are off and missing. This relationship is a fluid example of teenage emotions, torn between a desire to be with someone and confusion over what they should be feeling. A lack of one thing and an upsurge of another create turmoil within James, pulling the reader along for the ride and leaving them as unsure about the outcome as James. Confounding James further is his inexplicable reactions and feelings towards Ellie, a popular girl dubbed as The Ice Queen. He is both annoyed and infatuated by her, unable to sift through and understand his reactions. James' interactions with both Jess and Ellie are enjoyable though at times painful and help pull the plot and character development along beautifully. Overall, this is a fantastic read.