Did you ever have a dream that felt so real that when you woke up you were completely disoriented, not quite sure what was truth and what was delusion? Imagine what it would be like to not have that feeling fade after a few minutes, but to have to live with that uncertainty while keeping your fear and confusion hidden from others.
This is the atmosphere that author Jessica Warman infuses into her latest psychological thriller, “Beautiful Lies,” a book that takes the reader on a disturbing journey into mystery and madness.
Alice and Rachel are twins, but the bond they share binds them together much tighter than most twins. As monochorionic monoamniotic siblings, they shared the same amniotic sac and placenta in their mother’s womb, and somehow that closeness resulted in a psychic link, as well as a physical resemblance. Many twins reportedly have the ability to pick up on each other’s emotions, but Alice and Rachel’s level of empathy with each other can also take on a physical dimension. To put it simply, if one girl is cut, the other one may very well bleed, too.
Orphaned at a young age and placed in the care of an aunt who refuses to acknowledge such things, the sisters have learned to keep their connection a secret. In fact, they have learned to keep many secrets from the world around them. Because the girls look so much alike and others can only tell them apart by their personalities, they have switched places for years, fooling both friends and family. This deception has come in handy on more than one occasion, especially since one is a troublemaker and the black sheep of the family, while the other is the responsible one that everyone likes and trusts. Pretending to be another person has been a pleasant change periodically, but it backfires terribly one night when one of the sisters disappears while playing her role.
Unwilling to trust others with the truth, the main character is scared and unsure what to do other than try and find her sister before it’s too late. She becomes even more panicky when she begins to develop unexplained bruises and gashes on her body, including her wrists, which cause her to believe that her sister may have been kidnapped and tied up somewhere. As she carries out her own investigation, sometimes with the help of her sister’s friend, sometimes alone, she begins to uncover more secrets and deceptions—even secrets that her own sister has been keeping from her.
In her aptly named novel, Warman weaves a tangled web of lies and misdirection that keeps one constantly guessing. Just when the reader thinks he has everything figured out, she injects a twist that turns a supposed truth on its head. Much of this is accomplished by the fact that the main character’s mental state cannot be trusted. Although she comes across as a perfectly rational if obviously distraught young adult in many ways, it soon becomes clear that she may not be the best judge of what is real or not.
One of the strengths of Warman’s writing is that she never blindsides her reader with an inexplicable plot shift. Rather, as with all accomplished suspense writers, the groundwork for any new revelations can be seen on a careful rereading of previous chapters to catch any clues that were missed. For example, the author mentions more than once that the family has a history of mental illness, so when the truthfulness of the main character’s narrative comes into question the reader really has no excuse to have not seen it coming. However, Warman’s prose is so haunting and engaging that in some ways it is understandable if not every hint is picked up on at first reading.
While “Beautiful Lies” is a well-written and captivating read, it does have some content issues that may bother Christian readers. For instance, sex and sensuality play minor roles in the novel, although they are primarily incidental and never explicit. Much more prevalent is the abuse of drugs (marijuana and prescription drugs) and alcohol, along with underage smoking. While these are used effectively to round out the personalities of some of the characters, some readers may find the general acceptance of their use to be a problem. In addition, the periodic profanity sprinkled throughout the narrative may pose a problem for some readers, as may the brief, strong violence near the end of the book. The latter is a thematic necessity, but it still could be quite disturbing for some.
Taken as a whole, though, “Beautiful Lies” is a highly polished novel that showcases Warman’s literary prowess. Readers who enjoy books that like to play mind games will find this one well worth their time.
Image copyright Walker Children's. Review copy obtained from the reviewer's local library.
John E. Roper, in addition to his role as a missionary/pastor/teacher in Africa, has written for USA Today, the Arizona Republic, the Daily Oklahoman, theUS Review of Books,and more.
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