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Little Red Lies Hardcover – September 10, 2013
From School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-At 14, Rachel McLaren is finding it difficult to grow up with all of the trouble at home. Jamie, her older brother, returns from World War II and continually relives the battles and horrors in the trenches. His family assumes he is suffering from stress, but eventually he learns that he has leukemia. While Jamie is in and out of remission, Mrs. McLaren becomes pregnant. Rachel learns to grow up in a hurry once her baby brother arrives and her mother stays in bed all day with postpartum depression. The girl is faced with a handsome new teacher who exhibits inappropriate behavior toward many of the girls. The appeal of the story is that the problems are real and not overdramatized. Readers may find Jamie's story more interesting than Rachel's as his "letters not sent" ring true to the time period and offer a soldier's perspective on the war. A quiet, thoughtful novel, with more introspection than action.-Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MIα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journal. LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* Fifteen-year-old Rachel is dealing with a lot. Her brother, Jamie, has returned from WWII, haunted by the friendly fire that wounded him and killed his buddy Leeson. She has a crush on her high-school drama teacher and wonders if he feels the same way about her—and does she really want him to? Then Rachel is quickly overwhelmed when the family learns that Jamie has leukemia and their mother is expecting a baby to, as Jamie angrily says, “take my place.” Johnston has crafted a beautifully written, low-key, yet emotional story of a family dealing with the return of a son at the close of war. Jamie is wracked with survivor’s guilt and frustrated at returning to his adolescent way of life after having experienced the trauma of battle. His letters to Rachel, unsent but carefully saved so he can read and reread them, are painfully realistic, the antithesis of the glamour that teens too often assign to war, regardless of the decade. The family has more than its share to cope with during the year that Rachel narrates the story, but the love the characters feel for each other—and the resilience that love offers them—makes this difficult story authentic and ultimately hopeful. Grades 7-12. --Frances Bradburn
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Firstly, there are way too many problems. I understand that this is a 'coming of age' book, but the number of problems should be reasonable. Rachel, the main character, is a teenager going about her normal life. It's post WWII and her beloved brother Jamie has come home. While not drastically injured, he has PTSD and after a while an illness which turns out to be Leukemia. After Rachel's teacher retires, she gets a new teacher who flirts with the girls and seems like a pedophile. Rachel loves her teacher, 'Tommy', as she calls him and spends almost the entire book dreaming about their pretend relationship. Rachel also convinces herself one of her friend's mothers is a killer. Throw in a new baby in her home that everyone seems to hate and beloved missing neighbor and you have way to many plots to not only keep track of but find a way to resolve. At the end, they never are really resolved.
One aspect of the book that is interesting - and extremely frustrating at the same time - is the interspersed letters Rachel's brother Jamie writes to Rachel. While Rachel is the narrator of the book, there are frequent breaks, one or more per chapter, from Jamie's perspective. It seems to be like he writes the diary to Rachel, and I'm not sure if he intends to give it to Rachel at some point, or it's just easier for Jamie to get mental relief by conjuring up the person his sister used to be and write these mythical letters to her. I think part of the problem is the font the letters are written in. The font is quite feminine, so you have to make a point in your head of reminding yourself that these letters are not from Rachel the narrator's point of view, but from her brother Jamie's. It would greatly aid the flow if the font was in a more masculine font or maybe typewriter font to fit in with the time period.
The character of Rachel is also quite an unsympathetic character. Selfish and self-centered, there was very little to recommend her. Constantly thinking only of herself when she had a ill brother with cancer and PTSD, friends who had difficult home lives, parents with problems, and a new baby brother, she acted horribly to them all and never seemed to feel remorse. So eager to grow up, she didn't even seem human to me. No love for babies, ignorant of boundaries, inventing horrible stories about her friends, no empathy for her parents, full of herself, etc. Aside from her eczema, I found nothing to recommend her. Rachel was incredibly cruel in her thoughts and actions. A particular passage that comes to mind is during Christmas. Rachel wants to get her pregnant mother a diet book for her 'middle age paunch'. First of all, she's heartless. Secondly, after the depression and WWII, the thought that anyone would be so heartless and unaware of real issues is disgusting. Thirdly, it was not called 'paunch' on women during that time.
I was quite disturbed by the unnecessary vulgarity, particularly with the repeated discussions of 'the clap'. While it was a concern at the time, I highly doubt middle class teens would know so much about it. Even if they want to mention it once, the fact that it was repeatedly used as a plot element was unnecessary. It's almost like the author felt that because it was a teen book, she had to mention STD's. Another vulgar, inappropriate and unnecessary plot point.
One of the things that bothered me the most was the anit-Catholic views in the book. This was most evident in the horrible way they spoke of Jamie's girlfriend Mary. Frankly, it was bigotry and a completely unnecessary addition to the book. The author could have still had the plot points about Jamie being unable to marry because of no job (which the author did) and how they grew apart without taking the opportunity to Catholic bash. I know this was and still is a view of many, I found it disturbing and not adding to the plot at all. This sort of thing would never be mentioned in a book review and illustrates why I have to read every book I purchase for my school.
While this book was written in a readable way, it had too many plot points, contained some time period inappropriate elements, and seemed bigoted at times, I suppose it's unfortunately what passes for teen books today. If the author could have deleted some of the plot elements, been completely authentic with historical elements, and done without the anti-Catholic elements, this could have made a much better book. So disappointing that in it's current state it was nominated for so many awards. This speaks to the inherit poor expectations of teen books.
13-year-old Rachel hopes that things will be just like they used to be before, when her brother Jamie comes back from serving in the Second World War, but Jamie seems different.
Rachel wants to be a playwright when she gets older, and when a new teacher offers to tutor her and help her, she accepts, even when her friends think that his intentions may not be pure.
What is wrong with Jamie though? Will he ever get better? Can Rachel really write plays? What does her teacher really want with her? And why is her mother suddenly in bed all the time?
This story was okay, but certain things annoyed me, and the ending was pretty poo.
Rachel was quite a naïve character, and some of the things she came out with just irritated me. I couldn't quite believe it when one of the first things she said to her brother after he returned from the war was `was it exciting?'. I mean really? How about horrific, and terrifying? I wouldn't choose the word `excited' - as Jamie replied - some of his friends died.
The storyline in this was okay, but I didn't feel like much was resolved by the end. The main storylines were Jamie coming back from the war, Jamie being ill, Rachel's dreams of being a playwright, and her misadventures with a teacher at school. These were all okay storylines, but at times I felt like the story wasn't going anywhere.
I also disliked the way that people treated Jamie after he got home from the war - telling him that he had changed, and they wanted him to change back, and moaning that he wasn't eating, and that he needed to get over it. I know PTSD wasn't like a known thing back in the 1940's, but still, did nobody think he might have been affected by what had happened to him in the war?
The ending was what annoyed me the most though. I was actually afraid to read the last page, because I was scared that we were about to get a very sad ending, but what we actually got was... nothing. Yes, that's right - nothing. The story just stopped! One storyline was resolved, but the most important ones were just left hanging. I could not quite believe it - I actually kept scrolling in case there was a mistake and there was more to come - but no, that was the end. I mean just what?
Having finished this, I'm now wondering what the point was, and I hate it when a story doesn't seem to have any point to it. I feel like I read this whole book, went through all this mediocre stuff, and then didn't even find out how things ended. I mean did Jamie recover from his illness or not?
Overall; a disappointing story, and I really didn't like the end.
5 out of 10.
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