THIS WILL INCLUDE SOME SPOILERS!
The first historical young adult book I have read since I was in my teens and I didn’t know what to expect. It had rave reviews and won the Costa Book of the Year, save to say I think I should have read it sooner.
It follows Faith, a teenage girl whose family has moved to a remote island to escape something that she is at first unsure of. As the narrative unravels and Faith wades deeper into the darkness of lying and deception we follow her willingly, anxious to see how it plays out.
Faith is portrayed brilliantly. A young, intelligent woman constrained by her gender and forced to watch as the men around her fumble towards solutions while she silently takes it all in. Even if you haven’t read much into women’s history Hardinge’s account is realistic and at times brutally truthful. During an argument with her father the sense of gender perceptions hits home, she is here to bring babies into this world and marry a man who can support her. That’s not to say that she takes it in. Faith is very aware that she is a smart woman and is unsure how to be herself around others who mock her intelligence but, she preservers and through deceit, eavesdropping and at times, sheer brass, she is able to show the world (or at least her family and the people around her) her intelligence.
A tree that feeds on lies to reveal a truth lies in the fantastic realm of fiction but in this work does not feel out of place. After the discovery of the tree Faith begins to spin her web of lies into it. The book shows how quickly lies can spread and how they adapt as it is passed from one person to another and the consequences of those lies. While Faith shows empathy towards the victims of her lies she revels in being the instrument of them, in a world where she can do little her lies have big implications for the residents of the island.
Faith is not the only woman we see on the island. We see her mother, a woman who has adapted to her lifestyle as a woman of the house and when her husband dies is given all of their money to control, something which she has never had before. In contrast we have Mrs Lambent, who on first meeting, appears to be an older woman living out her final years with a bottle of gin as lady of the house. It is only towards the end that it is revealed that she is cunning, perhaps more cunning than Faith and uses her gender to go about undetected.
I loved the book and read it in two sittings (would have been one if I didn’t have to work). The book may be tailored or labelled as young adult but I think it’s a book that crosses those boundaries. There is no obvious love interest it is simply about Faith, her intelligence and the discovery of the truth. This is something I think a lot of books/authors can take away from it.