The Lies They Tell is the third novel by Gillian French, and after reading her debut novel Grit last year, I knew I wanted to read whatever came next. It was a solid debut, not earth shattering but definitely good. And I'm happy to report this one is even better. I was pulled into this story from the get-go and flew through this book. I knew it was a mystery and a contemporary, and from the blurb I honestly didn't know exactly what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Gillian French may just be an auto-buy author for me now.
Our story concerns Pearl, a girl in a coastal Maine resort town who works at the local country club. Her dad is a handyman and caretaker who watches over rich peoples' houses during the winter, but he's out of work now after a fire gutted one of the houses he was watching. The fire not only destroyed the house but killed four members of the family who were sleeping at the time- all except Tristan, the oldest son. Tristan is like the crown prince of the local rich kids, so in that sense this is a fairly typical YA setup- the rich kid, the girl from the other side of the tracks, and oh let's not forget Reese, who is Pearl's best friend but she has feelings for him, and is not sure if he shares them. Yes, very familiar. In spite of that, everything worked for me.
A lot of people in town blame Pearl's dad for the fire- not that he caused it, but that he survived and didn't see anyone, even though the police declare it an arson. So he's not really getting any caretaking jobs at the moment. He's also an alcoholic and a single dad, and he and Pearl have a nice relationship. She of course picks up the slack with him, and this is also a YA trope that's not exactly new, but here it feels alive. I felt for her dad even as I wanted him to stop drinking and get help. Pearl meanwhile is determined to get to the bottom of what really happened- and to do so she starts to get in with Tristan and the rich crowd.
It's not hard since Bridges, one of Tristan's crew, has a thing for her and keeps bugging her to go out. She accepts and discovers that Tristan has a weird hold over his friends- they go out late at night in their boats and she has no idea where they go. There is the expected pull of loyalties between the rich kids and her friend Reese, and I was kind of hoping Pearl and Reese would work it out. At the same time Bridges, who appears initially to be an asshole, turns out to not be too bad- or is he? Like a lot of the rich guys he gets around with the ladies, and at one point Tristan almost seems to be warning Pearl off. What is his interest in Pearl? For her part, she finds herself strangely attracted to him even as her real motivation is to get to know him and find out what happened regarding the fire.
I liked the mystery here, and the way Pearl was pulled into a different world, of money and privilege and secrets. You have the typical jerk Akil and the mean girl Quinn, but also the more vulnerable Hadley and the is he/ isn't he a jerk Bridges. I liked that Bridges in particular was nuanced- yeah he was after one thing but at the same time he genuinely cared about Pearl? Or did he? Your mind may change from chapter to chapter. The character I did not like was Tristan- he seemed like a brooding twenty-eight year old or something, not a teenager. Way too unrealistic.
The setting is amazing. French really brings this town to life, but mostly the country club felt like a real place. The details of serving, the rich/ poor divide, the sense that the town is a whole different place in summer when the tourists arrive. The other thing I liked was that Pearl knows how to sail, and this comes into play when she goes sailing with the richies. Pearl herself is a great character, perhaps a little mature for her age as well- I mean she has it together pretty well- but I loved how she wasn't a doormat for Bridges, how the romance was very muted- she was not going to just be another conquest for Bridges or anyone else- and she was strong and caring as well. She's probably the best part of the book. So yeah- this was a winner. I loved it and highly recommend.
I love this Australian version BTW.