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Strange Lies

Maggie Thrash's sequel to We Know It Was You is better than the original, but that's not saying a lot.

Strange Lies

BOOK REPORT for Strange Lies by Maggie Thrash

Cover Story: Creepy
Drinking Buddy: No
Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Such Potential
Talky Talk: Where to Begin?
Bonus Factor: Mystery
Bromance Status: Car Wreck Witness

Cover Story: Creepy

That is one spooky-ass cover, with the upside down school at night. And if you read the back blurb, you seem to be in store for an edge-of-your-seat mystery and a harsh look at society. The book fails to deliver either.

The Deal:

In the previous book, Mystery Club sleuths Benny Flax and Virginia Leeds solve a murder at their fancy-pants private school. In Strange Lies, they're confronted with the brutal maiming of the student body president. Was it an accident or an assault? Who was passing out pills that night? Did the golf team really assault an African-American caddy? And is there something going on between our two main characters, or will Virginia fall for Calvin, the oddball but charming poet?

Drinking Buddy: No

It should have worked. Benny is smart but uptight, Virginia is fun but flighty. There's Calvin, the pothead poet and son of the headmaster; DeAndre, the African-American student body president (the guy who gets badly injured); and a whole cast of class clowns, athletes, hipsters, and teachers.

Except, every secondary character is either a sitcom level buffoon or a so hateful that it borders on sociopathic.Even Virginia is not exempt. She climbs on top of Calvin while he's driving, causing him to wreck his car. She wakes up in the hospital with a shattered arm, but doesn't even bother to ask about what happened to Calvin or the other passengers until hours later.

Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Such Potential

Every serious issue this book tried to present (race relations, the privilege of wealth, parental expecations) is subverted by scenes so ludicrous that the producers of Perfect Strangers might have balked. DeAndre, the popular black student, is injured in what may be a hate crime. Except he allegedly slipped on a banana peel and was impaled on the horns of a taxidermized deer, which makes the whole thing kind if ridiculous. An athlete gets his girlfriend pregnant. But she's so annoyingly ditzy it's hard take the situation seriously.

As to the romantic angles: the author almost pulled off a nice romantic triangle with unpopular Virginia being pursued by strange-looking but romantic Calvin, while secretly hoping Benny might show an interest (who in turn is being pursued by one of the cheerleaders).

Unfortunately, all this is overshadowed by the implication that teen girls are expected to have had sex with about forty different partners by graduation. Benny's crush laments that she's serviced so many guys that the football team bought her knee pads (and she's not joking). Virginia goes to a party to discover that the girls are being auctioned off so everyone can  can do body shots off the winner (drink a shot from their navel). Virginia, unaware that there's a false rumor going around that she's easy, 'wins.' When Benny arrives at the party, he's horrified to find a bunch of guys ripping her shirt off and attempts to intervene. Virginia chides him for being such a stick in the mud.

In the previous book, Benny and Virginia catch a middle-aged pervert trying to secretly film the girls at their school while they're undressing in the locker room. For some reason, he's never punished, though Virginia manages to swipe $400 from him. In this book, the guy tracks her down, demanding she either return his money or help him get footage for his films--or star in one herself. Virginia is horrified and immediately turns this sick fucker over to the police...

No, wait, she doesn't. She vaguely wonders how she'll pay him back, though she's flattered that he would consider her worthy of being in his movie.

The only person who tries to convince the girls to have a little self-respect is the principal, who is described as a pantsuit-wearing, Hillary Clinton-admiring, troll of a woman.

Talky Talk: Where to Begin?

On top of all that, the whole storyline took on a soap opera plot direction. Nothing is ever resolved. The same mysteries held over from the last book, such as Benny's father's freak accident that left him an invalid or Virginia's mysterious parents, are still left up in the air. This wasn't a cliffhanger, the issues were just mentioned a few times but never fleshed out.

Antony John once said that good characters can make up for a weak plot, but not vice versa. I think this book is a good example of that.

Bonus Factor: Mystery

The book's main mysteries of who assaulted DeAndre and whether some students were involved in a seperate racially-motivated crime were well-handled and resolved in an unexpected and intriguing manner. This is why the book was not a total loss.

Bromance Status: Car Wreck Witness

So why did I read this book when I disliked the first one so much? Well, Benny and Virginia were likeable enough that I wanted to know what happened to them. And the author was just talented enough that I want to see how all this is resolved. I'll read the next one.

FTC full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher, Simon Pulse. No money or body shots, however.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.