downloadLocation: Bacchus Bar, double header

Category: Award-winners

Chosen by: Susan

Francis Hardinge’s The Lie Tree was awarded the Costa Book of the Year 2015, among other impressive accolades. As if that wasn’t endorsement enough, all of us at the Unconventional Book Club enjoyed this book, a rare occurrence indeed. This young adult novel tells the unusual tale of 14-year-old Faith who is uprooted and moved to the remote island with her famous, or infamous, scientist father, who is found dead under suspicious circumstances. Faith’s investigations lead her to a mysterious tree, which appears to bear fruit when its keeper tells lies. To discover what happened to her father, Faith begins feeding the tree lies and weaving a tangled web across the island.

Described by fellow author Patrick Ness as “dark, thrilling, utterly original”, he couldn’t have been more on-point. Not only has Hardinge conceived a unique story—Victorian Gothic without relying on the common “ghost story” conceit—but she also conjures the bleak atmosphere, painting a vivid image of the rugged island and its inhabitants, through evocative descriptions that really breathe life into the story.

Moreover, Faith’s shrewd lies unravel the mystery in a way that is compelling and intriguing. The novel is at once clever, complex, and well thought-out, while being presented in bite-size chapters that space the plot nicely without overwhelming the audience. Which brings us to the question of young adult literature, as much debate over this novel centres on whether it is YA literature or suitable for adults.

Some members of the book club didn’t know, nor notice, that The Lie Tree is supposedly a children’s book. Indeed, Hardinge displays mastery at approaching complex subjects in a basic manner, so while young adults may relate to Fay’s character, adults may appreciate more subtle undertones and the philosophical/religious debate that surrounds the tree. This makes the book most suitable for a thoughtful teenager or adult, as the vocabulary might be difficult to digest for younger readers. Like Hardinge’s dedication to her father, who treated her like an adult when she was a child, Hardinge too treats her readers as adults, regardless of whether they are or not.

One of the triumphs of this book is its treatment of women. Faith is ballsy and determined to overcome to barriers that hinder her from investigating her father’s death. Simialrly, other female characters in the novel are complex—often being more than what they may seem. Even in Faith’s difficult relationship with her distant mother, Hardinge explores the female dynamic and the methods employed by women in a society where their actions were heavily restricted. These feminist themes make The Lie Tree a great inspiration for young female readers.

Our main, and collectively agreed, criticism of the novel is the front cover spoiler that Faith’s father is found dead—especially because this event doesn’t actually occur until quite far into the novel, leading most of us to spend at least 80 pages anticipating her father’s death. We would have preferred a vague “Faith investigates a mysterious death”.

Score: 7