Lies My Girlfriend Told Me: Review

September 17, 2014 2.5 star books, 2014, contemporary 28 ★★½

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me: ReviewLies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters
Published by Little Brown on June 10, 2014
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 242 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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When Alix's charismatic girlfriend, Swanee, dies from sudden cardiac arrest, Alix is overcome with despair. As she searches Swanee's room for mementos of their relationship, she finds Swanee's cell phone, pinging with dozens of texts sent from a mysterious contact, L.T. The most recent text reads: "Please tell me what I did. Please, Swan. Te amo. I love you."
Shocked and betrayed, Alix learns that Swanee has been leading a double life--secretly dating a girl named Liana the entire time she's been with Alix. Alix texts Liana from Swanee's phone, pretending to be Swanee in order to gather information before finally meeting face-to-face to break the news.
Brought together by Swanee's lies, Alix and Liana become closer than they'd thought possible. But Alix is still hiding the truth from Liana. Alix knows what it feels like to be lied to--but will coming clean to Liana mean losing her, too?

Julie Anne Peters’s latest – and last, it seems – novel, Lies My Girlfriend Told Me really made me think about what I want from LGBTQ YA. (It also made me want to check out Julie Anne Peters’s book Luna, which Wendy has read and reviewed.)

To begin: there are lots of things to like about this novel: it avoids the coming-out narrative and surrounding conflict that is common in LGBTQ YA; the queer protagonist isn’t destined to a life of solitude and unending misery; the prose is good (and there are moments of unexpected humor that really worked for me). I am really pleased about all these things – coming-out stories are important, but LGBTQ teens have other kinds of stories, too, and it’s nice to see those other stories getting some attention. Lies My Girlfriend Told Me is great in that respect; our protagonist Alix’s sexuality – or that of any of the other queer characters in the novel – is never questioned and is integrated seamlessly into the narrative. The real focus of the story is Alix’s relationships. And this is all really wonderful, I think. Julie Anne Peters deserves all the props for writing so many different kinds of stories for LGBTQ youth.

The premise of Lies My Girlfriend Told Me seems potentially heart-breaking on that front: teen Alix’s girlfriend Swanee dies unexpectedly. While Alix is going through her possessions, she discovers that Swanee had another girlfriend on the side. Alix texts the side-piece from Swanee’s cell to figure out what the other girlfriend, Liana, knows and what she meant to Swan. After a few weeks, Alix eventually decides that she needs to tell her about Swanee’s death. Alix and Liana meet and come to terms with their complicated relationships with Swanee and in so doing, instantly fall in love. The secret texting is the major hurdle their relationship faces View Spoiler »

And yet, despite the metric ton of drama that this book contains, I was … strangely unmoved? I know, I know! I felt terrible. The book is jam-packed full of emotional drama but I felt strangely distant from all of it. Here’s why:

1. Alix, our narrator, is a teenager. But she reminds me of all of the worst parts of being a teenager – she thinks her parents are constantly out to get her, she’s incredibly immature, and she makes poor decisions at the drop of a hat with little to no concern for other people’s feelings. That is okay. She is still learning how to have feelings. It was, however, incredibly difficult to like her or relate to her or not want to parent the heck out of her. In some ways she seemed more like a caricature of a teenager than a real-living-breathing teenager to me. Have some examples:

On Swanee’s death: “Swanee’s only been dead for three and a half days. She could still come back, right? People can be resuscitated. People’s hearts have stopped before, and doctors were able to restart them. My mother could do it – if she wanted to.”

On her parents and Swanee: “Swanee was like a psychic when it came to reading people, and she said she didn’t like coming to my house because my parents always reeked of hater vibes around her.” (Hater vibes!)

On slut-shaming: “I notice she’s gone from goth to slut. She’s wearing the shortest jean skirt I’ve ever seen over holey fishnets with this skimpy, low-cut shirt that shows every bulge. I always think girls who dress like that are crying out, Notice me!” (One of my pet peeves is slut-shaming. I just can’t.)

She also lies to her parents left and right (and gosh, what has my life become when I am identifying with her parents) – she puts herself in life-threatening situations (driving ~2 hours in a blizzard!) without very good reasons to do so – and is generally kind of irresponsible and oblivious to anything but Swanee.

And I mean, fine, fine. Whatever. I could probably deal with this, BUT.

2. I don’t buy the relationship that develops between Alix and Liana after Swanee’s death. For one, I feel like it happens too quickly – and that neither of them have time to grieve Swanee’s death or process their extremely complicated relationships with her. View Spoiler » As you can see, there is a lot to process.

It also seems clear that part of their attraction to each other is about getting revenge on Swanee – a healthy place to begin a relationship from. I wanted to cheer for Alix for moving on, but I didn’t feel like either Alix or Liana are moving on.  Their relationship is weirdly, although understandably, focused on their dead girlfriend, and View Spoiler »

For example, Alix thinks, “We [Liana and Alix] shouldn’t be in contact. Obviously, Swanee didn’t want us to know about each other, and I think she’d be freaked out to find we’d met. Score one for us.” And also: “Swanee would be irate if I got together with her. She’d hate both of us. I know I shouldn’t care, but I do. I have to let Liana go, allow her to move forward so I can.”

Yes, very sensible! But does this happen? No. After some canoodling – and a quick dismissal of the idea that this is for revenge (“if it is, I don’t care”) – Alix “sends a request to Liana asking her to confirm that she and I are in a relationship. A second later, a response comes in. I give a little squeal of joy. She accepted.”

My eyes were rolling so hard at this point. I really wanted them to spend some more time thinking about whether this relationship actually constitutes moving on. And, despite the first-person narrative, there isn’t really a lot of explanation for why Alix cares for Liana, which is weird, because it is in many ways what the book is actually about – not Swanee.

3. A final thing that I really, really cared about: the portrayal of what good and bad parenting look like in this book.

Swan’s behavior – her infidelity, her cruelty to her girlfriends and her sister, her self-centeredness, and her possessiveness – are all seemingly connected to her family life.

Swanee’s family is described in the book as hippies who basically have a love-in 24/7. They are “free spirits, in an ultracool way.” They are the most permissive parents in the world. Not only are they hippies who let their daughter smoke pot, they have an open relationship, hold a funeral for Swan where they play “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” take a family vacation to Hawaii immediately following Swan’s death, don’t give their children a curfew, encourage Swan to date around (and to lie about it), and ignore their children’s need for professional help. They are a compilation of every stereotype of liberal parenting, ever, and this felt a bit to me like a straw man argument. It makes Swan’s parents bad and Alix’s parents good without actually having to make them very sophisticated or emotionally real.

I really disliked this? It seems like it’s implied that her home-life is what makes Swan a bad girlfriend to Liana and Alix, and having all of these things associated with bad parenting was kind of upsetting to me (hippies can be good parents; parents who have open relationships can be good parents; and to have all of these things clustered together as “awful parenting that destroys children’s lives!” felt weird to me).

Final thoughts: if you’re looking for LGBTQ-friendly YA that tells stories other than coming-out stories, I’d recommend it. I’d also happily recommend it to any teenager – it’s nice that LGBTQ identities aren’t questioned and are affirmed. I think Peters is a good writer and that her books are worth reading. While I felt the book lacked emotional depth, your mileage may vary.

Has any read this or any other of Julie Anne Peters’s books?  What’d you think?

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An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.


28 Responses to “Lies My Girlfriend Told Me: Review”

  1. Diana Doan

    Great review! I was interested with the blurb, but your review convenience me. I love intense reads.

    • Layla

      And that is absolutely a good thing about this book! I really like that aspect of it. The drama, not so much. But it’s great that it isn’t just about coming out – while those books are super important, I want other stories to be told, too.
      Layla recently posted…Winterspell with Claire Legrand + Giveaway

  2. Pili

    Emotional teenage angst? I’m not sure I could deal with a book like this one… and even less when parents are so stereotypically presented. There is good parenting and bad parenting, but you can’t just stuck some “liberal” stereotypes and make all of them bad by association, that kind of stinks of lazy character development.

    Thank you for your review, Layla!
    Pili recently posted…Friday Reads: ARC Review of Lailah by Nikki Kelly!!

    • Layla A

      Do you know why you stopped? (I can totally understand wanting to, though I didn’t! I wanted to see where the story was going to go.)

      And, yeah, I was bummed about this one. The world needs good f/f YA, dammit!
      Layla A recently posted…Lies My Girlfriend Told Me

    • Layla A

      That’s the thing – it isn’t really a good portrayal of the trauma that someone goes through after a sudden death. (And in a way, I feel like the novel cheats of this grieving, a little, by making Swan’s actions during her life so awful – neither Liana nor Alix really have room to grieve because they’re too busy discovering her deceit / falling in love with each other. And like … a teenager just died, but you don’t really feel it in the book. It’s odd.)
      Layla A recently posted…Lies My Girlfriend Told Me

  3. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Ah, such promise. I’m pleased to see that this one didn’t do the whole coming out narrative thing, that it just dives into the relationship without any fuss (well, the story, as one of the pair dies). However, I’m not a fan of the over-immature/caricature teen characters. Some immaturity and bad decisions, sure. Too much? Nope.
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Pre-Squee: Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

    • Layla A

      It does a really nice job of establishing the relationship, too. And yeah, Alix’s immaturity was a huge problem for me in the novel; grief I can deal with, but her grief (and Liana’s) kind of takes a back seat to their developing relationship.
      Layla A recently posted…Lies My Girlfriend Told Me

  4. Renae @ Respiring Thoughts

    I’ve read By the Time You’ll This, I’ll Be Dead by Peters, which had a much more understated LGBT element, since the story was mostly focused on the character’s suicide attempts and depression. I liked it, though.

    And I definitely agree that seeing a change from the typical “coming out” plot is always nice. Not to say that those stories aren’t important, but a diversity in storylines really helps a subgenre. It’s always good to see the various experiences people can have.

    It is a shame to hear about slut-shaming, though. I understand it’s a part of our culture and having a protagonist adopt that mental attitude might (might) have a purpose, but it’s still really painful to read, and always makes me sick to my stomach.
    Renae @ Respiring Thoughts recently posted…Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

    • Layla

      Maybe I’ll give that a try – I read Keeping You a Secret years and years ago, but don’t remember whether I liked it or not.

      I do really like that it seems like Peters is interested in telling a variety of stories about LGBTQ youth. Coming-out stories are absolutely important, but you also don’t want, I think, to have those be the only types of stories out there. LGBTQ folks (and all folks!) have lots of different experiences, and I think it’s important for those different experiences to be reflected in literature. Especially when there are many other issues facing LGBTQ teens and it’s useful to see yourself in a book sometimes.

      Yeahhhh, it’s the protagonist’s attitude, which is hard – as you say! – but might actually serve a purpose. I would mind this less if it also didn’t feel like the book’s attitude in some way. And it’s not really dealt with all that responsible, I think. The character the protagonist is speaking of is in a relationship with a much older man, and it’s implied that her sexual behavior is the result of parental neglect / unresolved issues after her sister’s death. And our protagonist is like, ‘Ugh, what a slut!’ and tells her mom, who reaches out to said character, but that’s … kind of it. It bothers me that there’s no further discussion of what’s going on with Joss, when it’s unclear if she’s even over the age of consent?
      Layla recently posted…Lies My Girlfriend Told Me: Review

  5. Nikki

    I’m just not sure…I went and read Wendy’s review on Luna and there seem to be some consistencies with this author and reviews that point out that the characters feel like caricatures of individuals and not feeling like they are real people.

    • Layla

      Yeah, I think Wendy and I responded similarly to the books we read. But Julie Anne Peters is a really popular author and that the things I noted aren’t issues for everyone, so I think she’s worth trying if you haven’t done.
      Layla recently posted…Lies My Girlfriend Told Me: Review

  6. Lauren at Bookmark Lit

    Great, great review! I listed to an audiobook version of this book a few months ago and had the same thoughts. The book frustrated me in general, especially Alix and her attitude. I actually liked Liana but didn’t understand their relationship or why it happened. There were a lot of stereotypes (not like LGBT stereotypes, which was nice to see that the book DIDN’T have!) but the ones about teenagers, liberals, etc. Everything unfolded so predictably that I couldn’t handle it. By the end of the book, I didn’t really mind it; I liked that it wasn’t a coming out story, too.
    Lauren at Bookmark Lit recently posted…WWW Wednesdays #8

    • Layla

      Yeah, Alix’s attitude bothered me so much. I don’t know if it’d be different if I were a younger reader, though; I can maybe imagine my 16 year-old self relating to this book? (I didn’t think my parents were out to get me but I did think they could read my mind! ;))

      The relationship happens *so fast.* And like maybe it would be ok if we had some insight into why it happens, or alternately, if the book’s perspective on the relationship was different than Liana and Alix’s. (This is to say: I could deal with them getting together and having it not make sense if the book was like, “Well, this is just the way they’re dealing with their grief” rather than “look at this beautiful and healthy relationship that has emerged from all of this death and pain.”)
      Layla recently posted…Lies My Girlfriend Told Me: Review

  7. Joy (Joyousreads)

    Hmmm…I don’t know. On the one hand, you could almost give them a pass for jumping on to their relationship quickly as a way to grieve; and on the other, it’s quite hard to understand why Alix would be so quick to forget the fact that Swanee cheated on her with Liana.

    Great review. I might read this one in the future when I’m in the right frame of mind. :)
    Joy (Joyousreads) recently posted…Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

    • Layla

      Totally! I said this above but I’ll say it again here, too – it would be different, I think, if the book made it clear that their relationship was a way for them to deal with their grief and shock over Swan’s death. But the book seems to think that their relationship is healthy and a good thing for both of them? Which I can’t buy. It would be one thing if the characters thought it but the book’s stance was different. Meh. Maybe not having a first-person narrative would have helped with this.

      And yeah, even within the world of the book, it doesn’t seem reasonable to me that they would both be super into each other given that they are both passionately in love with Swan (even when Alix gets further details about Liana’s relationship with Swan from Liana, she’s like, “oh poor Liana. I know Swan didn’t love her in the same way she loved me.”)

      If you do read it, let me know what you think!
      Layla recently posted…Lies My Girlfriend Told Me: Review

  8. Andrea @ Bookish

    I read this book a while back, but I was unable to finish it. I had HUGE problems with Alix and you pretty much hit the nail on the head with why I stopped reading. I’d forgotten a lot of the details – the two hour drive in the blizzard to meet Liana, then not, then being annoyed when her dad was worried. Like, really? Any parent in their right mind would be worried! It was like any time her parents showed concerned they were “over protective and annoying” or something to that effect. And the constant comments about her mother “refusing” to bring Swanee back from the dead? Okay, sure. Some teenage angst is okay and to be expected, but not when they embody every angst-like feeling possible.

    When I can’t connect with the main character, let alone like them, there’s no way I can finish the book. I really wanted to like this one, too.
    Andrea @ Bookish recently posted…Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer (Review)

    • Layla

      Yeah, I know. The biggest problem for me was that despite all of the emotional angst, I didn’t really feel affected by any of it. (And ugh, yes, I could not deal with the, “Ugh, I forgot to pick up my brother. Whatever, mom and dad, I’m just going to take this car and drive two hours in a blizzard.”) I was really bummed. I wanted to like this book.
      Layla recently posted…Lies My Girlfriend Told Me: Review