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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*If the Witness Lied* by Caroline B. Cooney- young adult book review
Also by Caroline B. Cooney:

No Such Person

The Lost Songs

They Never Came Back

Hit the Road
If the Witness Lied
by Caroline B. Cooney
Grades 7-10 224 pages Ember August 2010 Paperback    

The youngest of four children, Tris apparently caused the death of both his parents. Their mother died of cancer after refusing treatment until he was born; their father died after their Jeep backed into him in the driveway; only two-year-old Tris was in the car.

Exploited in the press over their parents’ deaths, their step-aunt Cheryl steps in to care for the children. The oldest sisters retreat to boarding school and a friend’s house, while fifteen-year-old Jack stays with Tris, devoting most his life to protecting him. When Jack and his sisters reunite on the anniversary of their father’s death, it is also the day Cheryl plans to turn their lives into a television drama with the focus on three-year-old Tris.

The family’s past and the mystery of the accident is revealed throughout the book through the points of view of the children. Their step-aunt comes to live and care for the children, but all she cares about is money, the house, and television. Taking place in a time span of only 24 hours, the siblings discover clues and begin to expose the mystery of the past they’ve all been avoiding.

Suspense builds as questions about the accident come to light. With Cheryl the only witness, many of the accounts of the accident don’t add up. How could Tris have been strong enough to release the parking brake? Why didn’t their father move out of the way?

If the Witness Lied is a story of forgiveness, reconciliation, and suspense. Although we can infer the truth from the beginning, the reasons and the evidence are unclear, unraveling as the story progresses and the suspense builds. Fully developed, the children’s characters are believable, but Cheryl is narrowly portrayed as clearly a fraud, unmistakably evil. Pieces of evidence come together as the children stay just out of reach of the television cameras, protecting their brother from exploitation.

Although the teens themselves are not active in their faith, Christianity seeps into the text, with prayer during critical moments. Using modern technology – text messaging, cell phones, digital camera, and laptop computer - the children communicate and discover the truth behind their father’s death.

Friendships and ultimately adult intervention are critical to the story’s resolution. The typical breathtaking pace of Caroline Cooney’s writing makes this story a page-turner, difficult to put down. Although the topic is violent, the language and situations are appropriate for a middle school audience. Highly recommended.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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