YA Round-up: The Best Lies, The Kingdom and Girls with Sharp Sticks.

TW:
abuse, rape.

Debut YA
thriller The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu is a portrayal of a toxic friendship,
abuse cycles and the frayed, complex in-betweens. It opens with the death of
Remy’s beloved boyfriend Jack. Remy is a witness to this accidental shooting
(or was it a murder?) supposedly committed by her best friend Elise but Remy,
in the traumatic hours following it, has no immediate memory of the event. In between
police interviews and flashbacks to the months leading up to Jack’s devastating
death, we come to learn about Remy and Elise’s friendship in detail.

When Remy’s
insecurity and troubled home life met fierce, trouble solving Elise it was like
day after a long night and Elise and Remy become everything to each
other. But soon Remy starts to question Elise’s actions, her tendency for
pranks and more. And then she learns about Elise’s background, her home life
and the domestic abuse she endures. Given that background, The Best Lies
expertly looks sympathetically at Elise’s actions without excusing her toxic
behaviour. Remy’s own life is deftly explored, her traumas as well as ensuing
guilt over Elise – and her growth and positioning over not being a secondary
character in her own life are the novel’s greatest strengths.

Rating: 7 – Very Good.

Westworld meets Handmaid’s Tale meets
my disappointment in The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg.

In a vague
near dystopian future, The Kingdom is an amusement park with the usual awesome rides
plus the less usual bioengineered extinct species in their animal park. Also bioengineered
are the seven Fantasists, beautiful princesses that have been created to be
perfect, fair, dreams come true. Ana is one of them and life had been very peachy
until she starts questioning her role as a Fantasist. Why must they be inside
the park at all times? Why are they bound to their bed every evening? Why do
sometimes her sisters go away then come back without memory of where they had
been? What kind of nightmare are they really living?

When Ana
meets new part employee Owen her questions turn to: is she capable of love? Is she
a real person? Then Owen is murdered and Ana is accused of his murder but can robots
have that kind of free will? Taking place between Ana’s now (at court) and Ana’s
then (falling in love, discovering the truth behind the Kingdom), the story
examines the questions of agency, humanity and artificial intelligence.

I came for
close relationships between girls in peril and got only some of that – the closeness
between Ana and her sisters may be what propel her to open her eyes but change
and salvation only come with a great deal of help from Owen. Given the set-up,
I had hoped the novel would take its darkness and run with it but sadly it was
not to be.  It all starts with a super
promising set-up that includes MURDER AT DISNEYLAND and KILLER ROBOTS and BFF
ROBOT PALS but eventually it fizzles out, under-developing everything else in
the name of #hetlurve.

Rating: 5 – Meh.

Everything
I wanted from The Kingdom, I got from Girls with Sharp Sticks by
Suzanne Young. With a very similar setup of Westworld meets Handmaid’s
Tale
, Girls with Sharp Sticks presents a fresh take on both
comparisons with a gloriously empowering ending and well-developed friendships
between girls at its core.

The girls
of Innovations Academy are the perfect girls: well-behaved and beautiful and above
all, compliant. Their parents have left them there hoping their
upbringing would lend them good husbands (or guardians). If they misbehave, there
is always therapy to help getting them back on track.

Mena has
been ok with her upbringing, trusting that the teachers, the doctor, the
guardians and sponsors know what’s best for her and her best friends. But one
of her friends starts showing disagreeable opinions and then she disappears
leaving behind a little book of poems – one of them, the Girl with Sharp
Sticks
of the title. Upon reading the poem, a fire starts in Mena’s heart which
will lead to her questioning everything, eventually finding out the truth of
their lives and of the academy.

Harrowing
and horrific, there is so much misogyny and abuse in this girls’ lives, Girls
with Sharp Sticks
is not an easy read – there are chapters I had to take
breaks from reading. The school is immersed in rape culture involving every
single aspect of the girls’ upbringing. But as much as their environment tried
to crush their agency, their spirit and above all, their closeness, the more
the girls question. Everything leads to an explosive ending in a book
full of awesome twists. I listened to the audiobook and highly recommend that.

I cannot wait for the sequel, Girls with Sharp Hearts. Pair this read with the super dark and discomfiting Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill.

Rating: 8 – Excellent.

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