Friday, March 13, 2015

Review: Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes

Title: Liars, Inc. 
Author: Paula Stokes
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: March 24th 2015
Pages: 368
Genre: Young Adult contemporary mystery
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell lies to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts a business providing forged permission slips and cover stories for the students of Vista Palisades High. Liars, Inc. they call it. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?
When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.
Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? 
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I love the idea for Liars, Inc.! YA murder mysteries are one of my favorite genre, and I especially love ones written from the POV from a character trying to prove they're innocent. And there is no doubt that Liars, Inc. is a well-done mystery; the mystery storyline is very sophisticated, and I loved the characters. So while there were a couple of things that bothered me about the plot, I really enjoyed this novel.

I really loved the characters in Liars, Inc. Max is a refreshingly authentic male MC, and I really connected with his voice. He can act really dumb at times and gets himself into a lot of unnecessary trouble, but he's an endearing character nonetheless. His background is fascinating and plays into the story in interesting ways, but I wish we had seen a bit more of it in his personality. Max's parents died when he was young, he was put into the foster system but ran away and lived on the streets for a while, was caught and put back into the foster system, and was finally adopted by the family he lives with now. I really liked reading about this interesting background, but I wish we had seen the effects of his rough childhood a bit more in his personality: he acted very naive at times, for someone who has lived on the streets and grown up very independently.

Speaking of Max's background, I absolutely loved his family! His adoptive parents are great people and very present in this story; I loved reading about Max's struggle between loving his adoptive parents but being unable to truly consider them his parents, after all he's been through. They have three more adoptive children, for which this book gets major diversity brownie points: there's Amanda, Max's eleven-year-old sister who has cystic fibrosis, and the parents recently adopted two Korean babies as well. I loved Amanda and her relationship with Max, and just generally really enjoyed reading about the relationship dynamics within the whole family.

And then there's Parvati, Max's girlfriend. I've read a couple of reviews saying they didn't like Parvati, but I for one loved her. She's a total badass, and the gender roles are pretty much reversed in her relationship with Max: she's the initiator and she's the one who coaches Max on how to handle the bad guys. She's rebellious and confident, and she spreads a very in-charge, sex-positive attitude that I loved. Oh, and the book gets more diversity brownie points for Parvati being Indian and integrating her background into the story without making it a central plotpoint. A lot of other reviewers had issues with her secrets and lies that are revealed later on in the story, and yes, what she did isn't the most morally sound. But I think what's revealed works really well with her character: it makes perfect sense with her tough-girl facade and attitude. 

While I loved the characters, I have some mixed feelings about the plot and mystery. Overwhelmingly, I was very impressed with the fast-paced plot; regardless of my smaller issues, I couldn't put the book down because I needed to know what would happen to Max next. The story behind Preston's disappearance is very complex, to say the least, and the whole mystery is very sophisticated. But I couldn't help but be a little disappointed by the resolution at the end. There are just too many plot twists and revelations and the very ending, which results in a bit of an info-dump; in the scene at the end that should be the height of suspense, we get a long-winded speech about the perpetrator's motivations. The backstory is very complicated, which can be a good thing, but only if it's integrated into the plot bit by bit, and I think a bit too much of that happened at the very ending, making it a bit overwhelming for the reader.

There's another smaller thing that really bothered me about the whole story, and that's the fact that, to me, the entire idea of Liars, Inc. (the group, not the book) had absolutely no point. The group could have just been left out of the book entirely, and the mystery would have made just as much sense. Plenty of people would provide an alibi for a friend trying to sneak away from his parents; you don't need to be a group that provides alibis in order to do that. Liars, Inc. is brought up again and again, but I just didn't see the point of it at all; it's an interesting concept but has nothing to do with the main storyline, so I felt like the whole first part of the novel was kind of pointless.

I had some smaller issues with the plot, but I really enjoyed the mystery, and the unique characters are what really made Liars, Inc. stand out for me. Regardless of how much I'm criticizing, the truth is that I couldn't put the novel down. So if you're looking for a sophisticated mystery with fully-developed characters and you're not too picky about the details, I definitely recommend Liars, Inc.!


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