How is This Classed as Children’s Literature? – The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

“There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.”

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Faith is not supposed to be clever, but she cannot stop her desire to learn, to grow, to discover. Always pushed aside because of her sex, Faith has disappeared  into the background her whole life, until her Father is shunned by the scientific community for faking evidence. After running to the Vane, her Father is found dead, presumed by everyone to be suicide, but Faith cannot ignore the feeling that someone else brought an end to his life. And that it is all tied to the mysterious plant her Father was so protective of.
Faith discovers this is no ordinary tree, feed it lies and it will unravel the truth. It’s the only way to discover what truly happened to her father, and she will do anything to find out the truth. Besides what harm can a few harmless lies do?

Spoilers below. 

Since this book was awarded Costa Book of the Year for 2015 I’ve heard a lot about it and seen it everywhere. The premise sounded intriguing and original so I thought it has to be good right? And it was, but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. One thing I didn’t expect was the heavy focus of the role of women in science during the 1800s; I didn’t even know that’s when it was set as no synopsis I read let on to this fact. However, once I got into the mindset of this era it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Faith, a 14 year old girl, acts exactly as she is supposed to in polite society, quiet, demure and good. Yet there is an edge to her which makes her character a more memorable one, she sneaks around behind her parents backs to discover their true motivations in moving to the Vane, and learns everything she can about her Father’s work. She wants to be scientist in a time when women were considered to be lesser beings with no head for the sciences or anything counted as a ‘manly’ profession. And she’s dark! She enjoys making the men uncomfortable when she knows something she shouldn’t, she particularly enjoys freaking out Paul Clay by talking about the dead people his Father’s photographs. She also has a knack from spreading lies and having people believe them.

The small details used to make the lies spread shows Faith’s sharp mind, and Hardinge manages to make it believable that these lies would take. She does not push her characters to make bigger, bolder movements that would make the plot of the story unbelievable (you know… aside from the tree that feeds from lies and grows magical fruits that reveal truths).

However it took me a while to get into this book, I was waiting for the plot to kick in for a few chapters and for Faith to settle as character.At the beginning I didn’t care what happened to these characters. At first Faith seemed stiff and awkward, but once she got into the mystery of her Father’s death she flourishes, and so does the book. I think that it is because Faith is finally allowed to express those dark emotions she has been pushing aside; she finally feels like a real 3-dimensional character and I finally cared.

For a the plot, there is a lot of set up before the Reverend Sunderly actually dies (does it sound bad if I say that I was just waiting for someone to bump him off?) and I feel like the book does not completely find it’s footing until then. But when it does find it, The Lie Tree is a deeply intriguing read, it shows the terrible consequences that can come from telling lies and that you never really know a person as Faith discovers all these women who are hiding aspects of their personality to be accepted within society; just like she is.

The women in this book hide until the very end (which is a shame because I would’ve loved to know more about them) but when they emerge they challenge everything Faith thought about the order of the world and pushes her to declare that she will not hide in the shadows anymore. A light ending after a novel filled with dark thoughts, murder and some truly Gothic themes.

The reveal of the killers was so well handled by Hardinge. I loved that the tree did not just show Faith exactly what she wanted to know, and that she had to unravel the truths for herself. And I didn’t expect it, the clues where so well hidden in the novel that it was a delightful surprise, one that I didn’t see coming.

One thing I did not understand is how this can be classed as a children’s novel?! It’s darker than I even expected, the tree hovers the whole novel as an unnerving whispering presence and the photographs of the dead relatives even made me shiver. Though I know some children’s novels are darker than you’d think if you look in between the lines, this was not hidden at all. It is just because Faith is 14 this is counted as a children’s/teen novel?

I would recommend this book for lovers of a good murder mystery, and maybe someone looking for a original paranormal twist.

Oh and here’s a question… Was Faith’s snake shedding it’s skin supposed to be a metaphor for Faith revealing who she truly is? Because that’s what I saw!
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One thought on “How is This Classed as Children’s Literature? – The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

  1. Pingback: The Harry Potter Book Tag! – Stephanie is Fictional

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