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Review: The Lies We Tell by Katie Zhao

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The lies we tell is another thought-provoking and socially conscious YA thriller from Katie Zhao that balances dark academia, a thrilling plot, and thoughtful character work.

It’s no secret that how we fall apart was one of my favorite reads last year and Zhao continues that winning streak here once again with a completely immersive and gripping mystery. She has this innate quality in her writing that draws you into her web of deceptions, secrets and lies. It’s an impeccably plotted story with lots of twists, turns and evasions. Every time I thought I had it all back together, another twist threw everything off balance once again. The tension and pacing were on, continuing to build higher and higher as the stakes grew deadlier.

This book really dives into anti-Asian hate crimes and structural racism, deconstructing outdated traditional expectations of black academia. The rise of Sinophobia in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is a sickening reality, and Zhao reflects it in this story in incredibly painful moments of pure hatred. There are explorations of white supremacy, the model minority myth, and heightened expectations that can be placed on immigrant children. The weight of the sacrifices made to get them there and their impact on their mental health are explored in a truly nuanced and intriguing way. Zhao also dives deep into the fetishization of Asian women, culture, and the appropriation of cultural symbols. There are those horrible racist stereotypes that lead directly to harm and abuse, which are explored in the book. That being said, this story is heartbreakingly honest in its depiction of these issues, but they don’t define our characters. These are the struggles they face and the impact of a culture steeped in white supremacist ideology that needs to be acknowledged. However, Zhao makes sure these characters are more than their associated issues, creating three-dimensional and incredibly lovable protagonists.

Anna is a brilliant protagonist. She is fiercely determined to uncover the truth, but also deeply passionate and considerate. Her life is torn between home and school and this is compounded by this desire to find out the truth behind the murder of her babysitter. She mirrors herself very well with Chris, who shares that drive to succeed and a caring heart. I loved their dynamic and every scene they shared together stole my heart. This seductive joke is wonderful, although Anna spends much of the story oblivious to the fantastic academic enemies of the dynamic lovers they are brewing. I also loved all the dynamics of the competing family businesses and especially the number of food descriptions we received overall. Food is such a nostalgic and emotive presence, bringing us together and allowing us to share our heritage through culinary delights. In this story, food is inexplicably tied to this diasporic culture and a way for Chris and Anna to reconnect with their families. Plus, it helps immensely that their cast of supporting characters is also incredibly interesting. Of course, you never really open your heart to some of them, because there’s always an element of suspicion. The ones you decide to trust are so adorable and have real sensitivity towards them. As always with Zhao though, I can never afford to fully relax until the last page, as I know there will be one final sting at the end of the tale.

The lies we tell is another firecracker of a one-voiced book that I completely fell in love with the genre. Katie Zhao is an author who should be an automatic purchase for you.

The lies that we To tell about is available from Amazon, Book Depository and other good book retailers, like your local bookstore, from November 15, 2022.

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Contents | Good reads

Anna Xu moves out of her parents’ house and into the town dorms as she begins her freshman year at the prestigious local Brookings University. But her parents and their struggling Chinese bakery, Sweetea, aren’t far from campus or mind, either.

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At Brookings, Anna wants to maintain her outstanding academic performance and investigate the unsolved on-campus murder of her childhood babysitter. There, she also finds a familiar face – her rival from middle school, Chris Lu. The Lus have also been the business rivals of the Xu family since they opened Sunny’s, a trendy new bakery in the Sweetea district. Chris is cute but still someone to be wary of – until a vandal knocks down Sunny’s and Anna matches the racist tag with a clue from her investigation.

Anna grew up in this town, but increasingly she feels like maybe she’s not fully at home here – or maybe there are people here who think she has no place. When a very specific threat is made to Anna, she seeks help from the only person she can. Anna and Chris team up to find out who’s been stalking her and embark on a dangerous search for hate crimes happening on campus. Can they uproot the ugly history and face the current threat?

The Lies We Tell is a social activism/we all belong here anthem crossed with a thriller and with a relationship between rivals and college campus romance.