Governor General’s Literary Award winner Julie Johnston knows how to speak to her audience. Rachel McLaren, the 14-year-old protagonist of Little Red Lies, is instantly relatable to any young reader struggling to find a place in his or her family, peer group, or society. The fact that the story takes place in the 1940s simply makes it that much more interesting.
The book opens with Rachel waiting anxiously at the train station for her older brother, Jamie, who is coming home after fighting in the Second World War. Despite hopes that life will return to normal, the McLaren household continues to struggle. Jamie is unable to adjust to civilian life, a fact that is made apparent by his deteriorating relationship with his sister and parents.
While helplessly watching Jamie struggle, Rachel experiences a crisis of her own (as only a 14-year-old can) when she performs poorly in a school play. Things move from melodramatic to serious when Jamie is diagnosed with leukemia and their mother announces she is unexpectedly pregnant.
Rachel’s confusion and anger about these developments threaten to overwhelm her, especially when she realizes that her English teacher has inappropriate designs on his female students. A final health scare brings matters to a head, and each family member is forced to face his or her worst fears and choose between falling apart or rallying as a family once again.
Moving seamlessly from teenage angst to grown-up trials, Little Red Lies is simultaneously a coming-of-age story and a portrait of postwar life in a small Canadian town. Readers will find themselves wrapped up in Rachel’s story without even realizing that they are also being immersed in history.