CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 31. . . .April 17, 2015
Life Cycle of a Lie.
Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis Press, 2014.
247 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55039-233-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55039-238-8 (ebook).
Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.
Review by Susie Wilson.
We jumped in the van. “I'm glad to be heading back,” I said to Jona. “That's the first time I've ever felt this way when I'm driving down the mountain. It was great today, but it wasn't the same without Vik.”
Not only did I miss her, but as soon as I started driving, I got to wondering what she was up to. I needed to get home and straighten things out. “She'll be happy you found the seedlings,” I said to Jona.
“It was more like they found me.”
I didn't know what to think about him. There was no one like him in Carterton, and I wanted to know more about him, where he'd been and what he thought. I like listening to him. There just weren't any guys around who had interesting things to say. And he had an eager, little-kid quality about him that made him different.
Life Cycle of a Lie tells the story of Jona, Vik (Victoria), and Linc, three teenagers living in Carterton, BC, a fictional small town next to an Aboriginal reserve where racial tensions are constantly simmering. The story is told from alternating first-person perspectives of the three main characters over the course of the first few months of their friendship. While featuring both male and female narrators, this book will appeal more to a female audience, though it will definitely reach a wider range of teenagers than books aimed specifically at girls. While it does feature a sort of love triangle, it is a story more about growing up and dealing with conflict than it is a tale of romance.
The book begins from Vik's perspective when Jona, a new boy who has just moved to Carterton from Vancouver, arrives at the high school. He has long hair, wears cardigans and colourful shoes, and says things like 'aubergine' instead of purple; as a reader, your suspicions that he might be checking all these stereotypically gay boxes will be confirmed in the next chapter when Jona takes over narrating and his attraction to Linc, Vik's boyfriend, becomes obvious. This chapter also features some cringe-worthy teenage poetry from Jona, who is a musician. I will be honest – when I first began reading this book, much of it rubbed me the wrong way. The further I got, however, the more I realized I was cringing in sympathy with the characters. Sylvia Olsen has done an amazing job of capturing the awkwardness of being a teenager who is confused about who they are and what they want to be. She narrates just as ably from a female and male perspective, creating well-rounded people into whose minds we drop in as we read. While I was having awkward teenage flashbacks when reading Jona's poetry, I'm sure readers currently in the midst of their teenage years will strongly identify with these characters. Jona, Vik, and Linc are quick to become friends which leads to the main conflict of the story.
Vik is the founding member of Save our Streams, or SOS, a group working to rehabilitate streams that have been negatively impacted by logging and pollution. Linc and their other friends are already members, and Jona joins soon after moving to Carterton. The book's action mainly takes place over a two-day period when the group goes to re-plant seedlings along a stream in the middle of a cut block. By this point in time, Jona and Linc's close friendship has begun to make Vik wary as she feels Jona is becoming closer and closer to Linc and that it is pushing her out of the picture. While Jona does not come out to anyone in Carterton, his crush on Linc is apparent to everyone other than Linc, and their behaviour, as well as the whispers of the other teenagers, gets to Vik who stays home on the day the group has the major outing to re-plant the stream. She stays home and misplaces a family heirloom, an incredibly valuable emerald ring, when she takes it outside to the place she used to hide from her abusive father. There is no malice in her actions; she is clearly just trying to think through her current situation, but the damage is done. When Jona and Linc come by to visit after the day of planting and Vik's parents come home, her racist, bigoted father is quick to accuse Jona of stealing the ring. Terrified and confused, Vik says nothing.
The events that follow happen in a whirlwind. Bert, Vik's father, goes on a drunken rampage set on finding and beating Jona, or worse. Luckily, the police pick Jona up first though, as an aboriginal taken in by white, racist cops, it is hardly a good situation for him. In the end, Vik finds the ring outside, puts it back, tells everyone the truth, and readers get a happy ending. Vik and her mom both stand up to Bert, Jona is cleared, and Vik and Linc work past Vik's insecurity which had been causing their relationship problems.
While, on the surface, it seems like not a ton happens in Life Cycle of a Lie, in the end, it is the growth of the characters that makes the book incredibly compelling. Linc goes from a boyfriend who doesn't put much deep thought into anything to someone who starts to see the implications of his actions and behaviour on other people. Vik goes from an insecure girl who allows problems to overwhelm her into silence into a person who is able to stand up for herself and communicate her needs. Jona starts as an outsider concerned with defining himself and fitting in and ends up as a member of the community who is willing to accept himself as he is without worrying about labels and their implications. These changes all happen naturally and slowly, showing the growth throughout the narrative.
The other aspect handled masterfully by Olsen is the depiction of racial tension in the community. Vik is white, Linc is Aboriginal, and Jona has a white mother and a Mohawk father. Their friends are a mix of people from the town and from the reserve, and the racist overtones that sneak into their interactions are incredibly believable. Having grown up in northern BC, I can (sadly) say that the casual prejudice that comes from the mouths of these characters comes right from real life. The acknowledgment of these sentiments and their treatment as problematic is incredibly genuine, which I appreciated, and it gave the book a real sense of reality that is sometimes lacking in real-world based young adult fiction.
Life Cycle of a Lie is a good addition to any YA fiction collection. It feature believable characters, an interesting setting, and a compelling plot.
Susie Wilson, a graduate of SLIS at the University of Alberta, lives and works in Prince George, BC.
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