It’s a tricky thing, picking out your favorite liars in YA. By definition, most of the time, the best liars are not the good guys (or gals). But what these 7 liars have in common is brilliant writing that makes them all characters you root for, even if they’re not aways “likable.” The authors of the five novels below have created fascinating, flawed, sometimes broken, and always compelling characters that keep us turning the pages and, possibly, leave us slightly in awe of their mad truth-manipulating skills.
Noah and Jude: I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
In this heartbreakingly emotional novel, the story is propelled by the lies Noah and Jude tell, sometimes to themselves. Some of those lies are truly devastating. But Nelson’s great trick here is to show why these two lie so much, by letting us see the emotional pain that drives them. I’m not gonna lie, this is not a breezy read; it’s heavy to the core, but so worth it. It’s a fascinating and moving portrait of two siblings trying to make sense of the world with the stories they tell. Noah and Jude own the “Lying to Deal with Extreme Emotional Pain” award, and get an honorable mention for “Keeping Your Lies Varied.”
Emma: The Lying Game, by Sara Shepard
Emma’s grown up in the foster system, and she’s never had much. Then she discovers Sutton, the wealthy twin she never knew she had. But Sutton vanishes right when Emma hits town, and Sutton’s friends kidnap Emma thinking she’s her sister. Which is where the lies really kick in: Emma pretends to be her twin so she can understand the extraordinary life Sutton leads. The more Emma lies, the more she has to lie—and she discovers she’s not the only one with secrets. As it seems more likely Sutton may not be coming back, Emma keeps on pretending, which puts her in more danger than ever before.
Cady: We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
This is a tough one to talk about. Spoilers, you see. All I’ll say about this is that Cady’s recovering from a head injury and suffers from terrible migraines and memory loss, so her recollections of what really happened two summers ago is not completely reliable. But when you read this book, you’ll understand why—in some ways—Cady might just be the Katie Ledecky in the 800m freestyle of lying. This is a fantastically twisty, page-turn-y thriller. Go read it.
James: The Secret to Lying, by Todd Mitchell
James is one of the great liars in YA. In his previous school, he was shy, he blended in…and he cut himself. Now in a new school, he sees a chance to reinvent himself, and boy does he take it. He gets a punk haircut, tells people the cuts on his arms are from fights, and convinces everyone he’s some kind of punk rebel. It works. He pulls crazy pranks with the cool kids, and makes out with the hottest girl in school. But in his dreams, things get dangerous. He fights demons, and when he wakes up, he has new wounds. Meanwhile, on IM, ghost44 seems to know far more about him than they should. The lines between reality and fantasy blur in this clear-eyed look at emotional disorders and how difficult it can be to come of age while being true to yourself.
Lou and Christian: Little White Lies, by Katie Dale
Another double winner in a novel jam-packed with world heavyweight champion liars. Lou comes from a notorious family, which is a secret she desperately tries to keep from mysterious stranger Christian. As they get closer, it becomes clear that Christian, too, has been lying to an extraordinary degree, and has an insane secret of his own that could destroy everything between them. How can two people find a connection when both have been lying about almost everything? As their world burns around them, Lou and Christian try to answer that question. This wins the Pretty Little Liars Award for Best Ensemble of Liars in a Drama.