Sunday, August 21, 2011

"LIE" by Caroline Bock: A YA Novel with Multiple First-Person Narrators

*The review portion of this post is on my book blog: Hanging by a Book. The lesson plan portion is all new to this post. It's after the trailer.

The attacks were such an established pastime that the youths, who have pleaded not guilty, had a casual and derogatory term for it, "beaner hopping."
---The New York Times, front page story 
after the murder of a Hispanic immigrant on Long Island

Author Caroline Bock opens her YA debut novel LIE (St. Martins Griffin: August 30, 2011) with this news snippet. The objective, journalistic style offers a stark contrast to Bock's use of multiple narrative voices to construct a fictional narrative touching on the nature of hate crimes and other issues relevant to teens. 

Reading LIE is like slowly peeling an onion by its translucent layers of skin. Readers learn "the truth" in snippets and from ten distinct voices. Complicating readers' search for the story is the absence of the most important voice, that of the accused, Jimmy Seger. 

The novel opens with Skylar Thompson narrating. She has been interrogated by Officer Healey about the events of "last Saturday night," specifically Skylar's boyfriend Jimmy's role: "Was Jimmy Seger the Mastermind?"

Bock complicates Jimmy in myriad ways, including his friendship and romance with the grieving Skylar after her mother's death. To what extent does Skylar really know Jimmy? How can Skylar reconcile the complicated moral code by which Jimmy lives and protects his friends with the "morality" which also makes him a bigot? 

LIE raises many questions, and it's the ten first-person narrators these binaries create that give voice to the issues. Yet the silences Bock constructs also speak volumes: Why don't we hear from Jimmy? What motivates teens to create a bubble of silence, one in which "everybody knows, nobody's talking," as Skylar's BFF Lisa Marie Murano chants throughout the novel. 

Innocence has no place in LIE, as Bock deftly critiques the pedestal on which school administrators and coaches place student-athletes, from whom they then attempt to distance themselves and the school when those students are laid low. Readers hear this in the adult voices Bock interjects into the narrative. 

Bock even challenges the American pastime, baseball, in her symbolizing of the Louisville Slugger. 

She further critiques the iconic great American road motif and its symbolism of freedom and the Westward journey that leads to fulfillment of the American Dream. The LIE (Long Island Expressway) ends abruptly, but it's also the scene of the crime in LIE

LIE debuts just in time for the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attack, which plays a subtle role in the narrative and suggests how we should and should not define heroism. 

Readers may find reading LIE a bit slow-going at first. Try peeling an onion by its thin skin to see what I mean. Ultimately, LIE voices the questions with which teens find themselves challenged, and the pace quickens, like a speeding car on the LIE, propelling the rider to the abrupt ending. 

LIE is worth the trip. That's the truth. 

*Book Trailer:

Lesson Plan Ideas:

Readers Theater:

If you are a teacher looking to incorporate more oral reading into your classroom, LIE offers an excellent opportunity for a readers theater activity:

1. You need at least two (maybe three) copies of the novel.
2. Split the novel into parts. There are ten narrators. When you split the novel, number the sections, which will make keeping the order easier.
3. Assign parts. Okay, with ten characters and a class of 30, you'll want to assign more than one student to some characters.
4. Have the students "cut" the sections. This will be complicated by the dialogue in some sections, but it's very doable, especially if in the cutting process some parts get reassigned.
5. The performance can take several forms:
    One: Practice and present a traditional readers theater.
    Two: Create a news broadcast and edit the "scenes" to create a traditional news segment.
    Three: Record the scenes in documentary style.

Class Debate:

In my last post, I offered a lesson for teaching the refutative speech. Rather than focusing on a policy issue, LIE offers an opportunity for debating a value question: Should friends remain loyal to their friends regardless of the circumstances?

Narrative Voices:

Focus on the multiple first-person narratives in LIE. One way to do this is with body biographies, another is with students explaining character choices from the specific character's point of view, either in writing or in an oral presentation.

As a fan of multiple narrative voices, such as Faulkner uses in The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying and Absalom, Absalom!, I'm excited about a YA novel that introduces students to a difficult narrative form. Why did Bock choose to tell the story from ten points of view? This question would make a provocative fish-bowl discussion.

Definition Essay:

The definition essay is my favorite expository mode, and LIE raises questions about many terms on which students could write extended definitions: loyalty, moral code, hate crime, heroism are just a few.

*Do you know titles of other YA novels with multiple first-person narrators? I'd like to hear about them if you do. Thanks for reading and sharing.