The Lying Game, Books 2-3 by Sara Shepard

In which I catch up on The Lying Game and circumvent the fact that I don’t have much to say about these frothy books by offering two short reviews in one post.

Never Have I Ever
Former foster child Emma Paxton has assumed the life of her privileged (and murdered) twin sister, Sutton Mercer. The only person who knows her true identity is hunky loner, Ethan Landry.

In this, the second book of the series, Emma fairly promptly crosses her sister’s friends off the suspect list (after being convinced of their guilt in the first book) and sets her suspicions upon the so-called Twitter Twins, two girls who want retribution for a particularly cruel prank Sutton played on them. While Emma sleuths and gets into peril, Sutton’s ghost hangs around and occasionally informs the reader about the small flashes of memory she conveniently experiences.

It’s hard to know what to say about a book like this. It’s teen suspense by the author of Pretty Little Liars, which means that there will be a fair amount of bad decision-making and ridiculous drama that somehow ends up being addictive anyway. I mean, it’s inconceivable that the twins are really Sutton’s killers—this is book two out of four, after all—and none of these girls is particularly likeable, but have I acquired the third book from Audible* and loaded it onto my .mp3 player with the intention of starting it as soon as I finish this review? You bet I have!

* Dear audiobook narrator,
Please learn to pronounce the letter T. Shirts don’t have buh-ins, windows don’t have cur-ins, and Facebook posts aren’t wrih-in.

Two Truths and a Lie
Usually, these books are pretty fun to read, even if they are silly, but Two Truths and a Lie sucked the enjoyment out of the experience by relying on one of my most disliked YA plots: there is angst, and the heroine could do something simple and obvious to fix it, but she is convinced for some inexplicable reason that she cannot do this thing to fix it, so things just get worse and worse until she finally does the simple and obvious thing, at which point the angst is dispelled.

In this particular instance, Sutton’s sister Laurel has discovered that Emma (in the guise of Sutton) has a secret relationship with Ethan. So, Laurel proposes that Sutton’s friends play a nasty prank on him, ‘cos that is apparently what they do. It takes Emma ages to realize that she could easily a) warn Ethan or b) tell her friends that she likes him. I also get the feeling Sara Shepard was under some Meg Cabot-like time constraint with regards to getting this book ready for publication, so she resorted to Meg Cabot-like tactics for fleshing out one’s word count, like reiterating obvious things like, “Wait, so he was at the hospital the night Sutton died? Then he couldn’t have killed her!” Uh, yes, I got that.

Like the other books in the series, this one focuses on one main suspect for Sutton’s murder who is ultimately cleared in the end. Again, there was no chance of the killer being identified before the series conclusion, and therefore no real suspense. I also do not believe that the suspect suggested at the very end of the book will wind up to be the actual perpetrator, ‘cos that leaves no room for surprise twists.

I gripe, and yet I am first in the library queue for Hide and Seek, the fourth and ostensibly final volume, which is due in July.

The Lying Game by Sara Shepard

From the front flap:
The worst part of being dead is that there’s nothing left to live for. No more kisses. No more secrets. No more gossip. It’s enough to kill a girl all over again. But I’m about to get something no one else does—an encore performance, thanks to Emma, the long-lost twin sister I never even got to meet.

Now Emma’s desperate to know what happened to me. And the only way to figure it out is to be—to slip into my old life and piece it all together. But can she laugh at inside jokes with my best friends? Convince my boyfriend she’s the girl he fell in love with? Pretend to be a happy, carefree daughter when she hugs my parents good night? And can she keep up the charade, even after she realizes my murderer is watching her every move?

The Lying Game is the second collaborative effort between Sara Shepard and Alloy Entertainment (the team that brought you Pretty Little Liars) to be made into a TV series for ABC Family. I thought that this time I’d try reading the book before starting the show, so here we are.

Emma Paxton was raised by her unstable mother Becky until the age of five, when Becky skipped town while Emma was at a friend’s house. After Becky could not be located, Emma entered the foster care system, where she developed the ability to hold her tongue and become “whatever type of girl the situation needed [her] to be.” Now two weeks shy of her eighteenth birthday, Emma is hoping to make it through her senior year of high school and even dreams of attending USC and becoming an investigative journalist. Her skeevy foster brother has other plans, however, and Emma is soon accused of theft and told she must go when she turns eighteen.

Skeevy also shows Emma a video of a girl who looks just like her engaging in what looks like asphyxiation-for-kicks. From the video, Emma gleans that the girl is called Sutton and lives in Arizona. Googling leads to a Facebook page, and Emma’s message yields an invite from Sutton, who confirms that she was adopted. Without hesitation, Emma packs her bags and heads to Tucson.

Sutton fails to show for their appointed rendezvous, however, and when Sutton’s friends show up to whisk her off to a party, Emma finds herself using her adaptability skills to assume her sister’s role. Conveniently, Emma’s bag containing her cash and ID are stolen at this point. The next morning, she gets a note informing her that Sutton’s dead and that she’d better play along or she’ll be next. Emma tries various times to tell people what’s going on—Sutton’s parents, the police—but because Sutton was such a notorious prankster (more in a malicious way than a fun way) nobody believes her. Soon, Emma grows to suspect Sutton’s circle of friends may have offed their leader, and by the end of the book she’s learned the truth about the video but isn’t any farther along in discovering who killed her sister.

The Lying Game is definitely a guilty pleasure, and I already have the second volume in the series (Never Have I Ever) checked out from the library. Still, there are a couple of things about it that bugged me. The major issue for me is the choice to have Sutton stick around as an unseen-by-Emma ghostly presence. Conveniently, she has access to Emma’s thoughts, and so takes narrative duties, but in a really strange way. She’ll be narrating along omnisciently, referring to herself as “Sutton” or to things that belonged to her as “Sutton’s,” just like Emma might, and then all of a sudden she’ll switch into first person narration, using “me” and “mine.” It’s pretty distracting.

It’s also highly convenient that Sutton can’t remember many details of her past or see anything if Emma can’t see anything. She is, therefore, little use if Emma is in peril, though her timely recollections of snatches of memory do serve to heighten the dramatic tension when readers know something that Emma doesn’t. Mostly, however, I have the inkling that Sutton is there to react remorsefully when Emma discovers some of the horrible things she has done. Is Ghost!Sutton just a ploy to try to get us to care about her? In life, Sutton was a thoroughly nasty and entitled person, which makes this the second Shepard/Alloy series that focuses on the death of a girl so odious one wonders why she had any friends at all.

And that’s the second problem I had with The Lying Game: it’s too much like Pretty Little Liars. Granted, maybe that’s what fans of PLL want, but as I watched the action build towards a social event (a party, naturally) and watched Emma jump to conclusions I had the distinct feeling that I had been through all this before. There’s somewhat less focus on brand name fashions, at least.

Still, as mentioned, I will keep reading. And I’ll check out the show, too. Shepard is good at injecting twists into the story to hook a reader, and I like that Emma is beginning to have feelings for Ethan (a broody, poetry-reading boy) and seems poised to have an ally in her efforts going forward. Then they can jump to conclusions together, just like the girls in PLL!