Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Review: The Secret To Lying by Todd Mitchell


A teenage boy’s self-reinvention gets out of control in a sharp, funny, poignant, and compulsively readable novel that gives a familiar theme a surprising twist.

James was the guy no one noticed — just another fifteen-year-old in a small town. So when he gets into an academy for gifted students, he decides to leave his boring past behind. In a boarding school full of nerds and geeks, being cool is easy. All it takes is a few harmless pranks to invent a new James: fighter, rebel, punk. Everyone’s impressed, except for the beautiful "Ice Queen" Ellie Frost and the mysterious ghost44, an IM presence who sees through his new identity. But James is riding high, playing pranks and hooking up with luscious Jessica Keen. There’s just one thing awry: he’s starting to have vivid dreams of being a demon-hunting warrior, a thrill that is spilling over into dangerous and self-destructive acts while he’s awake. As he’s drawn deeper into his real-life lies and his dream-world conquests, James begins to wonder: What’s the price for being the coolest guy around?


A train wreck waiting to happen and an artful blurring between reality and fantasy, The Secret To Lying masterfully delves into one teen’s struggle to be noticed. The boy who was often forgotten, James finds himself at a new school with a fresh start. With opportunity ample before him, he holds nothing back in the stories he comes up with regarding his past- until it becomes too much even for him.

On a shallow level, this book is about lying and reaping what’s been sown. On the deeper level Mitchell incorporated, this book is the epitome of teenage confusion and a struggle to find one’s self. A coming of age novel mixed with moralistic questions, The Secret To Lying is a refreshing read for any age. James’ internal struggles, debates and fears aren’t hidden, clearly driving much of his actions throughout the book. Unable to see far enough in the future to realize the path he is on and resistant to help, James does nothing but continue to delve deeper into the darkness that threatens to engulf him.

James is masterfully done, making a complete character change early on as soon as he starts at his new school before developing through great strides by the end of the book. There are three different characters seen throughout centered with this one person and Mitchell has created a unique, memorable and promising method to bring about each one. Subtly touching on many areas of psychological, rationalization and motivations, James is a character any teenager- male or female- will relate to. Even the most outwardly confident teen will find some consolation in James’ struggles and from an outside perspective, his decisions and chosen methods to deal with the demons battling inside him can easily be identified as inept. From inside James’ head, however, the reader can easily understand the drives behind his lying and other things he does. Mitchell holds nothing back when he puts this character on display, creating a strong emotional connection between reader and damaged character.

In his journey to finding himself, James encounters a range of characters and because of the ASMA school setting, the social groups are different. This is a place where the geeks can be bold without repercussion, the nerds can be popular and being smart is idealized rather than ostracized. In some ways, James attending a boarding high school is much like a college freshman, suddenly rapt with new opportunities and no parental supervision. While some handle it smoothly, others go overboard and given his mental state starting at the school, James’ actions are easily understood.

Enter Jess, a punk style girl who shows interest in him and though an attraction is there, it is clear to both the reader and even James other things are off and missing. This relationship is a fluid example of teenage emotions, torn between a desire to be with someone and confusion over what they should be feeling. A lack of one thing and an upsurge of another create turmoil within James, pulling the reader along for the ride and leaving them as unsure about the outcome as James. Confounding James further is his inexplicable reactions and feelings towards Ellie, a popular girl dubbed as The Ice Queen. He is both annoyed and infatuated by her, unable to sift through and understand his reactions. James’ interactions with both Jess and Ellie are enjoyable though at times painful and help pull the plot and character development along beautifully.

Mixed in with the lies and uncertainty are numerous scenes of teenage pranks, banter, and companionship. There are several humorous scenes throughout the book, breaking up the serious aspect of the book. From shopping trips with his mother to an entire scene played out in the cafeteria as a stand against the food, James and his friends find themselves in some very entertaining situations that remind the reader of the characters' ages and though they are at a school for math and science, they are still teenagers.

Hosting a wide variety of characters with some interesting nicknames- from Cheese to Heinous to Muppet- The Secret To Lying is a smooth read along a tumultuous road rapt with rises and falls. The description and detail of James’ dreams paints a magnificent picture for the reader and the slow shifting of that world into James’ waking one is handled seamlessly. The integration of the actions of his dreams into the real world events is a brilliant method to tie everything together. Bold writing that gives a very strong mental voice to this smart but confused and unmotivated main character coupled with an endearing plot that very cleverly manipulates the lines between dreaming and awake, fiction and reality create a perfect novel for an emotional ride the reader is guaranteed to remain on until the ending.

Source: ARC received from author/publisher, free of charge, for an honest review
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (June 8, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0763640840
ISBN-13: 978-0763640842

Author's Website


  1. Amazing review my darling! It sounds pretty good, adding it to my wishlist. :)

  2. Great review, Kari! The plot sounds intense, and your review makes it sound even better, aka drama, drama, drama. And I'm loving the "bold" writing. :)

  3. I absolutely loved this book!!!