The Lie Tree
by Frances Hardinge
Middle School, High School Amulet/Abrams 378 pp.
4/16 978-1-4197-1895-3 $17.95
Everything in this audacious novel is on the cusp or in limbo, setting up delicious tensions and thematic riches. The time is nineteenth-century England just after Darwin’s theory of evolution has thrown the scientific world into turmoil; the setting is the fictional island of Vane, between land and sea; the main character is a fourteen-year-old girl caught between society’s expectations and her fierce desire to be a scientist. Faith Sunderly regards her intellectual curiosity as an “addiction”; “There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.” But when she discovers that her naturalist father has brought the family to Vane to escape rumors that he faked his most famous fossil discovery — and, subsequently, when he is found dead and only she knows that it was not suicide, but murder — she gives in to her curiosity. Faith, now keeper of her father’s secret “Lie Tree” (a mysterious plant that “feeds on human lies…and in return it bears fruit that give visions of secret truths”), begins using the increasingly powerful Lie Tree to self-induce dangerous trances she hopes will reveal the identity of her father’s killer. It’s heady stuff; but Hardinge maintains masterful control of the whole complex construct: everything from the sentence level (“The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth”) on up to the larger philosophical and political (i.e., feminist — the revelation of the book’s villain is…a revelation) questions. A stunner.
From the May/June 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.