Review: The Lies They Tell by Gillian French



HarperTeen | 2018

Filed Under: Rich people getting lit (on fire)

I was really hoping this was going to be a sweaty, atmospheric summer thriller. But I only got one out of two from that list.

Depending on what’s important to you – the atmosphere or the thrills – you’re either going to love this or not.

Immediately upon starting this, I got a Revenge meets Gossip Girl meets Riverdale vibe. It’s got that “spoiled teens with no adult supervision in the Hamptons” thing going on.

It’s very rich versus poor. The pool owners and the pool cleaners. The Haves and the Have-nots.

The novel opens with a bang, so to speak, when the Haves suffer a tragedy the year prior – the Garrison estate goes up in flames, killing four members of the family. The only survivor is their teenage son, Tristan. The town is shaken, casting blame and suspicion on the members of the Have Nots, because of course the poor people want to kill the “elites.”

Right, ‘Murica?

the kingsmen laughing GIF by Collider

This is definitely more of a character-driven novel than I was expecting, and honestly, the town of Tenney’s Harbour – the coastal Maine community setting – is really the most impressive character any way you look at it. When the summer rolls around again and the rich people start doing whatever rich people do in the summer (which I guess is infiltrate coastal towns and become country club zombies in white shorts,) I was immediately transported to a state I’ve never visited before, but I felt like I had.

It was such a heightened, romanticized idea of Maine painted by Gillian French, that I could feel every colour used to bring it to life.

Pearl, the main character, is from “the other side of the tracks.” Her father, a single dad and a drunk, is a maintenance man for rich people but he isn’t getting very much work since the fire. He’s one of the Have Nots under suspicion. Pearl works as a waitress at the country club where she serves all the rich people all the things they don’t really need.

water GIF

The setting is created in such a way that as Pearl fluctuates between these two worlds, you really feel the shift. From the country club grounds where rich people are wearing boat shoes probably, to the backrooms where the employees can be found being all resentful and shit. From yacht parties with no adult supervision and back to Pearl’s little house where she supervises her drunk-ass dad.

This is honestly the best part of the whole book. It’s A+ next-level setting. And nothing else in the book lived up to this.

The idea is that Pearl is going to become friends with Tristan’s group of cliquey, polo-wearing dudebros to get the inside scoopy-doop on the fire so that her father will stop drinking and get his life back on track.

But honestly, Pearl is a boring main character. The Haves she befriends are stereotypes we’ve seen in every other teen story since the beginning of time. The girls are snotty and vapid. The guys are one unattended drink away from becoming another white boy who’s given probation for sexual assault because “he’s a really good swimmer.”

lessons schools GIF

The mystery of who started the fire, and killed the Garrison family, is answered almost immediately, the culprit being completely obvious. So much of the novel felt like a bad teen soap opera – Who likes who? And who wants to sleep with who? And who has already slept with who? – as it plodded on towards an ending I could see coming since the prologue.

It was billed as a thriller. I was expecting some goddamn thrills.

Instead, I got loafers and champagne and some snotty bitches pointing out that clearly Pearl doesn’t belong because she is “just” a waitress, while Pearl quietly thinks to herself “who set the fire” and plans to Molly Ringwald her way into a dress she hopes will help her fit in among all the designer labels.

While the setting and the class divide were done to perfection, the rest of this novel felt flat to me. It’s definitely a sweaty, atmospheric novel. But it’s hardly a thriller, barely a mystery. It’s probably better categorized as contemporary YA. And that’s just not my thing.


This was a letdown, overall. That cover though…


With shades of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars and Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, this dark and twisted mystery will be the page-turner of the year.

Everyone in Tenney’s Harbor, Maine, knows about the Garrison tragedy. How an unexplained fire ravaged their house, killing four of the five family members. But what people don’t know is who did it. All fingers point at Pearl Haskins’s father, the town drunk, who was the caretaker of the property, but she just can’t believe it. Leave it to a town of rich people to blame “the help.”

With her disgraced father now trying to find work in between booze benders, Pearl’s future doesn’t hold much more than waiting tables at the local country club, where the wealthy come to flaunt their money and spread their gossip. This year, Tristan, the last surviving Garrison, and his group of affluent and arrogant friends have made a point of sitting in Pearl’s section. Though she’s repulsed by most of them, Tristan’s quiet sadness and somber demeanor have her rethinking her judgments. Befriending the boys could mean getting closer to the truth, clearing her father’s name, and giving Tristan the closure he seems to be searching for. But it could also trap Pearl in a sinister web of secrets, lies, and betrayals that, once untangled, will leave no life unchanged . . . if it doesn’t take hers first.

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