17 year old Shelby Cooper leads a very structured and unchanging life – every day is the same, except Friday, but, then again, all Fridays are the same. She lives with her Mom and literally talks to nobody else, except very occasionally a guy at the library. But one Friday evening, while she’s waiting for her Mom to pick her up, she is hit by a car and then her whole world descends into chaos. She sees a coyote who tells her: “There will be two lies…(t)hen there will be the truth. And that will be the hardest of all. “. And, of course, the novel’s title does tell us that there’s some unreliability going on.
Shelby is an engaging narrator – supersmart, funny and very in tune with what’s going on. She directly addresses the reader and makes quirky use of space and typed symbols (some of which I may have lost as I was reading a digital review copy). Eventually, it emerges that she’s deaf – though there are plenty of clues along the way – and this seems to explain why her mother is so protective. But after her accident, her Mom whisks her out of the hospital and they take off, with her Mom spinning a bunch of ever changing stories as to why they’re apparently on the run.
Shelby’s observations give a really good sense of place, whether it’s the towns of Phoenix and Flagstaff, the deserts, mountains and forests of Arizona or, best of all, the Grand Canyon. Her descriptions have both a physical and emotional element, and the feel of each place is also part of the narrative.
So far, all great. This is a wonderful novel, with an appealing protagonist who is put through the wringer, by circumstances that are far beyond her control, and rises to the challenge. Much like Mr. Lake’s enjoyable Hostage Three (2013), which has a similarly smart and self-reliant heroine who is thrown into an unlikely, but not incredible, situation and makes her way through.
But, sadly, for me at least, woven through Shelby’s actual story, is a parallel fantasy/allegory in which she is on a quest in a space called the Dreaming, accompanied by the coyote, or Coyote. I have two significant problems with this strand of the novel. Firstly, my inner Debbie Reese has a concern about this generic hodgepodge of Native American myths, which are uncredited and seem tailored to Mr. Lake’s whim. Second off, these chapters are really boring and I read in dread of the next tiresome installment – much like I wearily plodded through the Bran and three-eyed crow sections of the Game of Thrones books.
Are the Dreaming chapters necessary? Well, I’m not a Printz-winning author like Nick Lake, but I would be inclined to trim them right down – yes, they give us some psychological insight into Shelby’s past and future but I don’t think they need to do so at such dreary length.
So, a qualified recommendation overall – loved the realistic section, did not enjoy the fantasy.
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy.