YA Weekend: Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Debutantes
Publisher: Freeform (November 6, 2018)
Length: 400 pages
I knew when I picked up Little White Lies that it might be a little outside my wheelhouse, but what I didn’t anticipate was how much fun it was going to be. Set in the world of debutante balls and grand estates, this novel might as well be set on another planet for all I know about Southern high society, but Jennifer Lynn Barnes ushered me through this beguiling YA mystery with a certain kind of mastery and finesse I’ve found only in the most skilled of writers.
For as long as she can remember, Sawyer Taft’s world only consisted of herself and her mother. Eighteen years ago, pregnant with Sawyer, Ellie Taft was kicked out of the house and practically disowned by her high society family, presumably for the shame and scandal she brought upon them. Since then, the two have been eking out a living in your typical small Southern town, with no other contact with family since Ellie was cut off. As a result, Sawyer was raised with little to no knowledge of where she came from. Her mother hardly talked about her past, and certainly not anything about Sawyer’s father, whose identity has been kept a closely guarded secret from her daughter.
Then one day, a mysterious stranger shows up on Sawyer’s doorstep, introducing herself as Lillian Taft—her maternal grandmother. The stately woman has also brought our stunned protagonist an offer she can’t refuse: half a million dollars to spend the next nine months living on Lillian’s estate, at the end of which Sawyer will be presented at the debutante ball. Despite her initial misgivings, Sawyer knows she will accept. The money itself is incentive enough, solving all her financial problems, not to mention a real shot at going to college. However, Sawyer’s true motivation lies rooted in the realization that living in her grandmother’s world might mean finally learning the answer to the question that has dogged her all her life: who is her father?
What follows is an absurdly entertaining tale that is one-part twisted intrigue and mischief, and one-part fish-out-of-water story about an unassuming young auto-mechanic who suddenly finds herself thrown into a world of makeovers, dresses, and southern style etiquette. And of course, no story about high society would be complete without your fair share of secrets and scandals, so rest assured Sawyer stumbles upon quite a few of those in this novel too. It’s a little over-the-top, but not to the extent that it would turn me off.
Most of Little White Lies is told in flashback, with little snippets of the present preceding some chapters. In this way, readers are teased with the knowledge that something “big” has happened, and the plot gradually unfolds to describe exactly the series of events that take place before this huge bombshell. Other chapters are also preceded by cryptic messages from some strange tumblr-like website—yet another mystery to be solved. Needless to say, by the time everything falls into place, readers are guaranteed to be left wide-eyed by all the surprises, betrayals, and personal dramas the author has managed to weave into this addictive novel featuring a number of unpredictable plot threads.
Speaking of which, this was my first novel by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Within the first ten chapters, I was thoroughly sold on her writing. She has a talent with words, which paired with a great sense of timing made it easy to become utterly absorbed with the story. Like I said, this is a society I’m totally unfamiliar with, but Barnes was able to create such a clear picture of the setting from the get-go, everything else about the culture and the people just came easy. And there are a lot of characters in this book. Thankfully though, you don’t need make a web diagram to keep track of all the names and relationships, because the author does such a fantastic job with characterization, giving every individual memorable dialogue and personalities. One of the biggest joys of this book for me was being able to discover this world alongside Sawyer, as well as getting to know all the people we meet along the way. There are some bitter rivalries and hostilities, but some pretty epic friendships too.
I was also caught off guard by the ending. Just when you think everything has been sorted out and put to bed, this book has a final surprise for us. You just never know what could happen next on this crazy wild ride. It bodes well for the sequel, and yes, I was thrilled to learn Little White Lies is the first book of a series. I look forward to more fun with Sawyer.