The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Macmillan, 2015. ISBN 9781447264101
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Mystery. Lies. Truth. Fantasy. Costa Book Award for Children's Book (2015), Carnegie Medal Nominee (2016), Costa Book of the Year (2015), YA Book Prize Nominee (2016). When Faith's father is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, she is determined to find out what has happened to him. Her mother and uncle drag his body into the orchard, and Faith refuses to believe that he has committed suicide. She reads his journals and finds references to the Lie Tree that he has hidden in a cave, a tree that feeds off lies and reveals hidden truths when lies are fed to it. She begins to spread lies across the island and the truth begins to appear.
Dark and demanding, this is not a book that can be read in one sitting. Rather, it is one to savour over a period of time, think about and return to when ideas have begun to meld into understanding. Perhaps one of the most interesting themes of the book is its well-researched background about Victorian science and the gathering of fossils, the role of women in Victorian times and Victorian funeral customs, including taking photos of the dead. The reader is drawn into the lives of Faith and her mother, both constrained by attitudes to women of the time. Faith desperately wants to study natural science and to be recognised by her father, but that is not something that is acceptable for girls living in that time, while her mother is forced to act as the helpless lady, needing a man's protection, to get any stability for her family. The final chapter is a wonderful summary of the difficulties that Faith will face, but the effect that her efforts could have on 'some later girl'.
The idea of a Lie Tree is a compelling one, and the reader is dragged along into the consequences and nastiness that result from the lies that Faith feeds the tree in her efforts to find who has murdered her father. She not only lies, but attempts to scientifically and rationally analyse the physical and dream evidence that she finds in order to work out the mystery. She is helped along by Clay, whose photography skills not only let the reader know about funeral customs, but also help to uncover the truth.
Hardinge has an original voice and mature and intelligent readers will find much to savour in The lie tree.