May 21, 2014

Live to Tell

by Lisa Harrington
Dancing Cat Books
170 pp.
Ages 13+

Just having been awarded the White Pine Fiction Award in the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading program last week, I willed myself to go back to 2012 to review Live to Tell.  I suspect that many readers, including author Lisa Harrington, were surprised by the book's selection by high school students as their favourite book but, as I always say, if a book wins an award, it deserves to win it.

Teen Libby Thorne wakes up after twelves days of unconsciousness in a hospital, trying to piece together how she got there from the bits and pieces her parents, nurses and friends are able to share.  They can't tell her much because the police are involved now and she needs to provide her account, not one pieced together from others' information.  Two visitors are especially critical in helping bring back Libby's memories.  First, her best friend Kasey, whom Libby's mom has always thought of as a bad influence on Libby, sneaks in to visit and update her on what happened and how the outside world is reacting to the car accident and Libby's role in it.  Second is Cal McInnis whose good looks and devotion to Libby while at the hospital has everyone cooing about him being her boyfriend.  Thing is, the boyfriend she remembers is Nate, though slivers of memory do start to poke into her consciousness and she recalls a rather crude break-up and subsequent drinking.

I know that my students dislike the use of a character's amnesia to develop a plot, but in Live to Tell Lisa Harrington does not use it as a device to keep the whole truth hidden.  The loss of memory is used to reveal Libby's thinking as she tries to make sense of what she is told, what she feels, and what is the truth.  Because her future depends on her remembering–she has been arrested for manslaughter–Libby wants to learn the truth quickly but she isn't always making sure how reliable the information is.  Fortunately, with some friendly direction and because human nature eventually leads us to show our true selves, the twisted plot and surprise revelations bring a swift resolution to Live to Tell.  

Lisa Harrington has penned a young adult mystery with hints of romance and teen angst that obviously reached many teen readers, garnishing a major Canadian book award for young people.  Though Libby's story does jump back and forth between her memories and her present, the plot is essentially a linear one: girl awakens with amnesia and tries to fill those gaps in her memory.  I think Live to Tell could have benefited from some additional subplots to enrich the story but I tend to enjoy more complicated story-telling and those that provide me with the context for considering larger social issues than, say, drinking.  But the readers clearly appreciated the tight storyline and its convolutions, and that's good enough for me.

Congratulations on your White Pine Fiction award,  
Lisa Harrington,
for Live to Tell!

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