Liar, Liar by Gary Paulsen

Tina Zabinski was standing by the drinking fountain with some of her friends, laughing.  I heard her laugh and my heart gave this crazy lurch, and my breathing did a stop-start thing, and I got sweaty, and did other stuff we learned about in Family Life, stuff that marks the moment a male’s physical maturation begins.  I’d never been so glad to be carrying a math book. (Liar, Liar; p. 16)

Kevin, an eighth grader with a penchant for lying, experiences a moment of clarity in the paragraph above that is eerily similar to many eighth grade boys who pass a milestone of maturity around this age.  He discovers the fare Tina’s femininity.  Thoughts of Tina monopolize Kevin’s mind.  He can’t believe he has never noticed her drop-dead beauty.  He immediately hatches a plan to woo  her and make her his girlfriend.  Yes, his plan involves a great deal of lying, hence the title, Liar, Liar.

I have not read a great deal of Paulsen’s work, other than Hatchet, The Car, and Woods Runner, all three of which I thoroughly enjoyed.  It’s obvious he’s appealing to a younger – and possibly more reluctant – audience with Kevin’s narrative, which continues in Flat Broke.  This is a different style for Paulsen, though.  If you are looking for the story telling you found in his previous action-adventure or historical fiction, you won’t find it.  That’s not a bad thing, though. 

Kevin’s stream-of-consciousness narrative style is smart and funny. You can tell he wants to do the right thing, but he often defaults to his strength – lying.   Like so many protagonists in these types of books, Kevin is no dummy.  He’s a voracious reader, thanks to his mother’s job at a bookstore, he’s curious, and you get the feeling that he genuinely wants to help others from the action he takes to help his Aunt Buzz avoid problems with the IRS. He’s just a bit lazy.   And I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that the cover offers you more than insight into the internal conflict Kevin must overcome to be classified as a truly dynamic character (ok, it’s summer and I’m sounding too much like a teacher). 

This is one of those books that allows you to grasp the ending without ruining the reading experience.  It’s straight forward, but that’s a good thing for reluctant readers who often want this type of road map from the start.  Short (122 pages) and nicely segmented into digestible chapters with focused, revealing titles, Liar, Liar is the perfect summer read for a boy in grades five through eight who has no interest in summer reading.

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