The show based on Sara Shepard’s YA mystery series The Lying Game just returned to ABC Family, so this seemed like a good time to finally take a look at the books. The series so far has four books, with two more scheduled to be published this year, and two novellas. I figured I’d read the first book and then see if I was interested enough to read more. And am I? Well, sort of, but not exactly in the way I’d hoped. More on that in a minute.
The premise, for those who don’t know: foster kid Emma discovers she has a twin, Sutton, who was adopted and raised in a privileged family. She makes contact online and arranges to meet Sutton, but when she gets to Sutton’s town it turns out that Sutton has vanished. A mysterious figure tells Emma that Sutton is dead and that Emma must impersonate her or be killed as well. I won’t say much more for fear of spoilers, but there are plenty of twists and turns, and basically everyone Emma meets turns out to be a suspect.
At first, I had a hard time getting into this novel, mainly because of the narrative style: The point of view alternates between the two girls, but the action is always with Emma, because Sutton is some sort of . . . ghost, maybe? . . . who can now see and hear what her sister experiences. So we either get Emma’s point of view directly or Sutton’s commentary on it, and in Sutton’s sections, this double narrative is a bit disconcerting and took me a while to get used to. It also doesn’t help that Sutton tells the reader things that are later big reveals for Emma, because on at least two occasions, I was thrown out of the narrative at a dramatic moment by thinking “Wait, didn’t Emma know that already?” The other problem is that Sutton can’t remember a lot about her life, which is necessary for preserving the mystery for the reader, I suppose, but what she can and can’t remember seems awfully . . . convenient.
One thing I’m curious to see in the book’s transformation to TV is whether they make the characters more easily likeable. Emma is mostly sympathetic, but Sutton and her friends are pretty much portrayed as horrible people throughout, and Sutton periodically thinking “Was I really like that?” doesn’t help a whole lot. With fellow Alloy property The Vampire Diaries, the main character was given a total personality makeover for TV, so I’m wondering if that happened here. Of course, the girls from Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars do plenty of awful things as well, but their characters at least seem more complex and nuanced than anyone in The Lying Game is so far.
Slight spoiler: Things happen, obviously, but Emma does not solve the entire overarching mystery in this first book; I found this a bit frustrating but obviously shouldn’t have been surprised – especially given, again, the Pretty Little Liars precedent. I’m not sure I necessarily want another book series and show with endless and increasingly ridiculous plot machinations designed to keep one mystery going indefinitely. But at the same time, it did draw me in enough that I want to read the next book, sort of in spite of myself. So. Well played. (I will also try to watch at least the first few episodes of the show soon and let you know what I think.)