Review: The Lies We Tell

Today, I’m reviewing The Lies We Tell by Katie Zhao. It is no secret that How We Fall Apart was one of my favourite reads last year and Zhao continues that winning streak here once more with a completely immersive and gripping mystery. 

This post originally appeared on The Nerd Daily.

All Anna Xu wants to do as she starts freshman year at the local prestigious Brookings University is keep up her stellar academic performance, break out of her shell, be more social… and investigate the unsolved on-campus murder of her former babysitter six years ago. And if that wasn’t difficult enough, it seems that Chris Lu, whose family are the Xu’s business rivals, is attending Brookings too.

There’s no way they can be friends. Until a vandal attacks the Lu’s bakery and Anna puts the perpetrator’s call sign together with a clue from her investigation into the cold-case murder. When a very specific threat is made to Anna, she is forced to team up with Chris to undertake a dangerous search into the hate crimes happening around campus. Can they root out the current threat or will the town’s ugly history take them down?

Publication Date: 15th November

TW: death, violence, murder, hate crimes, racism, anti-Asian hate crimes

Goodreads | Waterstones

The Lies We Tell is another stimulating and socially conscious YA thriller from Katie Zhao that balances Dark Academia, a thrilling plot and considerate character work. 

Zhao has this innate quality to her writing that draws you into her web of deception, secrets and lies. This is an immaculately plotted story, with plenty of twists, turns and red herrings thrown in. Every time I thought I had it all pieced together, another twist threw everything off-balance once more. The tension and pacing was spot-on, continuing to rise higher and higher as the stakes became ever more deadly. 

This book really delves into anti-Asian hate crimes and structural racism, deconstructing the outdated traditional expectations of Dark Academia. The increased Sinophobia in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is a sickening reality and Zhao mirrors it in this story in some incredibly painful moments of sheer hatred. There’s explorations of white supremacy, the model minority myth and the increased expectations that can be placed on the children of immigrants. The weight of the sacrifices made to get them there and how that impacts their mental health is explored in a really nuanced and intriguing way. Zhao also delves deep into the fetishisation of Asian women, culture and the appropriation of cultural symbols. There are these horrific racist stereotypes that directly lead to harm and abuse, which is explored in the book. That being said, this story is heart-breakingly honest in its depiction of these issues, but they do not define our characters. They are struggles they must face and the impact of a culture trenched in white supremacist ideology, which are necessary to acknowledge. However, Zhao ensures that these characters are more than their associated issues, creating three-dimensional and incredibly lovable protagonists. 

Anna is a brilliant protagonist. She is fiercely determined to discover the truth, but also deeply passionate and considerate. Her life is torn between home and school and added into that is this desire to uncover the truth behind the murder of her babysitter. She is mirrored really well with Chris, who shares that drive to succeed and a caring heart. I loved their dynamic and any scene they shared together stole my heart. That flirty banter is wonderful, though Anna spends much of the story oblivious to the fantastic academic enemies to lovers dynamic they have brewing. I loved the whole competing family businesses dynamic as well and particularly how many food descriptions we got as a whole. Food is such a nostalgic and emotive presence, bringing us together and allowing us to share our heritage through culinary delights. In this story, food is inexplicably linked to that diasporic culture and a way of Chris and Anna reconnecting with their families. Also, it hugely helps that their supporting cast of characters were all incredibly interesting as well. Of course, you never truly open your heart to some of them, as there is always an element of suspicion. Those you do decide to trust though are so damn lovable and have a real sensitivity to them. As always with Zhao though, I can never fully allow myself to relax until the final page, as I know there will be a final sting at the end of the tale. 

The Lies We Tell is another firecracker of a book from a voice that I have utterly fallen in love with in the genre. Katie Zhao is an author that should be an auto buy for you.

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