July 04, 2022

White Lies

Written by Sara de Waard
224 pp.
Ages 13+
May 2022

Birthdays should be joyful celebrations, especially for young people. I know that lots have elaborate events (perhaps sometimes too extravagant) but for some the mere recognition of the day as auspicious would be enough. Sadly, for 15-year-old Missy Bell, her last three birthdays have been tortuous and her sixteenth is almost upon her and she has no reason to expect any different. Ever since the death of her younger brother Jeremy when she turned 13, Missy's special day has been marked by her parents behaving badly through their grief and Missy dealing with the fallout on top of her own loss and guilt. In fact, most of the time, they don't even recognize her needs, with her father Tim, whom she refers to alternately as Trick or Treat, wallowing in alcohol and other illegal substances, and her mother Susanna now in prison and unable to see beyond herself.  

An untethered Missy has found refuge at the vintage toy store of Ren Lin, where she organizes and cleans voluntarily for multiple hours most days of the week. Even though Ren's perfect daughter Valkyrie doesn't trust Missy and is often rude to her, the store is a far better choice than going home to a house with little, if any, food, and a father often drunk or high on the couch hurling abuse at her. By keeping the routine of working at the store, seeing her psychiatrist Dr. Tandalay every Monday, visiting her mother the first Wednesday of the month, and going to school, Missy is keeping it together. For now. 

But two new people enter her life and offer her something she's rarely experienced. First, there's the new custodian, Miss Maalouf, who extends supportive kindnesses to Missy. And then there's classmate Luke Geurtin, who also visits a mother at the penitentiary. Missy and Luke form an unorthodox relationship that is both supportive and hostile, as the two damaged teens try to navigate feckless parents, poverty and abuse, and systems purported to offer support. Only time will tell whether they can feel beyond their traumas and circumstances.
Sara de Waard, an author and screenwriter of Métis descent, has delved into numerous issues in White Lies, giving us a tough story about childhoods, or at least teen years, saturated with misery and discouragement. It's about young people not living their best lives because those who should be there for them aren't and, in fact, work against them, mistreating them with neglect or emotional abuse, and sometimes even physical harm. Those who should love them, their parents, give them very little but strangers like Miss Maalouf, Ren and even Missy and Luke for the other step up, offering what they can. But Missy and Luke are working at a deficit, trying to survive and, knowing that their parents are the only ones they have, make do. And still they persevere.
The soft ceiling tiles soften the profanities of the inmates, but can't silence them. The four-letter words puff from the ladies' mouths like rings of fire, blazing through the massive concrete gathering space. But they fall on my deaf ears. I'm used to it. Nothing shocks me now. I may look like china in a bull's shop, but I'm a matador of life's crap.  (pg. 22)
Thankfully, without solving all of Missy and Luke's problems, Sara de Waard has given them hope, in each other and in others–though perhaps not their parents–that perhaps a little kindness will help lift them out of difficult circumstances or at least sideways so they can avoid harm.


  1. Thank you so very much! This review brought tears to my eyes.

  2. Honestly as someone who hasnt picked up a book in years, this book brought back my love for reading. This book has such an extremely well written story and so much love and thought put into it to make it such a good read. Truly amazing work by Sarah DeWaard.

    1. Wow -- thank you for this feedback! <3