When I first heard about Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate, I thought it sounded pretty good, but the thing that made this a must read for me was the word "pansexual". Regular readers of my blog will know that I'm passionate about diversity, so on reading that this book had a pansexual character - the first I'd ever heard of in any book - it immediate went on my "absolutely must read", and I shouted out to the whole world on Twitter about it. And I'm so happy to say that, not only does Seven Ways We Lie have a pansexual character, it's also a bloody incredible book!
Seven teenagers, seven secrets. The actress who hates everyone, the slacker who's having trouble at home, the drug dealer who's hiding his pansexuality, the popular girl who has casual sex but keeps guys at a distance, the over achiever who has serious self-esteem issues, the genius who knows something he shouldn't, and the lovely, perfect girl who's suffering inside. When a school scandal rocks Paloma High, these seven teenagers don't realise it sets in motion things that will lead to their secrets not being so secret any more, and they have to rely on each other. But can you trust others with what you've kept hidden for so long?
Oh my god, this book is so good! It's not a spoiler to tell you what the school scandal is, as it's revealed in the very first chapter; there is a student-teacher relationship going on at Paloma High, but the staff do not know who is involved. Rumours fly about the teachers, the students, people making guesses at who it could be. But among all this are seven teens who are having issues of their own. Their paths cross and their stories interconnect. Lucas, the pansexual drug dealer, is the ex-boyfriend of Claire, who is in every club going. Claire is friends with lovely Juniper and Olivia, who gets a lot of abuse for having casual sex. Olivia is Kat's sister, who has been mad at the world for such a long time. Matt is one of Lucas' regular customers, and he's always had a thing for Olivia. Valentine is a super smart loner, who despises most people his age, but has a very strong moral compass. You'll find out how his story crosses with others as you read.
I was a little worried that Seven Ways We Lie was going to focus really heavily on the student-teacher relationship, and it was going to get very gossipy and scandalous, which really isn't my kind of book. But that's not what Seven Ways We Lie is; it's more real, more human. It was more about the seven teens and their lives than it was about spreading rumours and being bitchy - though we do see some bitchiness, because it's a high school, and there's always bitchiness.
All seven get a chance at narrating the story, and their voices are all so wonderfully distinct! They are each fully realised characters with their own story arc, their own problems, and their own opinions on what's happening at the school. Seven Ways We Lie shows that appearances can be deceiving, that we can make assumptions, have impressions of who people are, but we never know what's going on inside their heads, what's behind the smile. That makes it sound sinister, but that's not what I mean. Not everyone is as happy as they seem. No-one can be defined by a single aspect of their personality. Humans are multifaceted and complex, and we never really know who someone is or what they're going through. We're too quick to make judgements - not even bad judgements, necessarily - about people, and see them in a certain light. But how you see someone isn't necessarily who they are. There is more to all of us. It was absolutely fascinating to see how all of the seven saw each other, and yet saw who they were from inside their own heads. No-one, really, got anyone right. Not completely. And as the story goes on, they are surprised by who they all are as they get to know each other more as their stories interconnect.
None of the characters are stereotypical. Lucas, the drug dealer, is a cheery, happy-go-lucky guy who's hard not to love. Juniper is probably Queen Bee, but she's actually a really nice, lovely girl, who sticks up for those who are picked on. Olivia likes casual sex, sure, but she's not shallow or bitchy; she has a big heart who genuinely cares about her friends and family. "Drug dealer", "Queen Bee", "Slut" (as she is called in the book, not my words) - they all evoke certain ideas about people who would be put in these boxes, but with Seven Ways We Lie, we are shown that no-one is a cardboard cut-out.
When it comes to Olivia's story, Seven Ways We Lie is a pretty feminist story that has a lot to say about female sexuality. Olivia likes sex, and doesn't see why she can't enjoy having it with various guys. There's more to her than who she chooses to have sex with, and she's sick with being treated badly for something that is nobody's business. She has a conversation with Matt - who doesn't seem to care either way, it doesn't matter to him - about about the double standard of how women who have had many sexual partners are treated with how men who have had many sexual partners are treated, and it's so wonderful to see! But what I loved the most was seeing Olivia stand up for herself when Dan, a guy she previously had sex with, keeps bugging her to have sex with her again. It was so good to see Redgate tackle the subject of guys randomly sending unsolicited dick pics, even briefly - it's so prevalent right now, and so unbelievably unacceptable, so it was great to see Olivia receive one from Dan, and how she reacts to it. But back to how she stands up for herself, this is how Olivia reacts after she's finally done with the crap from Dan:
'"Besides, if you're going to let everyone and his brother get it, can't blame me for assuming you're down."Oh my god, isn't she wonderful?! I just love her!
When I find words, they rush out in a waterfall. "So by sleeping with more than one guy, I've forfeited my right to hook up with who I want? Or are you saying that by having sex with multiple people, I've become, like, emotionally incapable of falling for one person? Either way, are you insane?"
"Hey, all I'm saying is, you can't act like a slut and expect people not to treat you like a slut. It's just false advertising."
False advertising? I am done. I'm done with the stares and the rumors and the lack of basic human decency, let alone privacy. I'm so done with being defined by this single part of me.
"I'm not advertising anything!" I yell, my words ringing off the living room walls. "My body is not yours. I don't owe you. I don't owe boys some fucked-up compensation for my reputation, I don't owe the public an apology for my personal life, I don't owe anyone a goddamn thing, so get out of my life and stay out!"' (p283-284)
Seven Ways We Lie, as I've touched on, has a pretty diverse cast of characters. Matt is half-Mexican, half-American, Claire's older sister, Grace, is disabled, and Lucas is pansexual. I've implied that this is pretty huge, and it is. I have never seen or heard of a pansexual character in any other book. This is the first, and a first for a lot of other people too, I discovered, when I told everyone and their dog about it on Twitter. Not only is Lucas pansexual, but it's on the page. It's a sexuality that we don't hear about so often, so it's brilliant for pansexual teens to see someone who is like them in the pages of Seven Ways We Lie. Being a sexuality we don't hear so much about, you might be a little confused as to what it means to be pansexual, but it's ok, Lucas gives such a brilliant explanation when he tells his ex, Claire:
'"What did you--pansexual?"Please excuse me while I do a little happy dance! Oh, I love Lucas, and I love how he knows who he is with no confusion! This is not an "I'm figuring out my sexuality" story for Lucas. He has known he was pansexual before this book even starts. He knows who he is, he's comfortable with who he is, he just doesn't go to the most accepting school, and so he's been keeping it quiet for fear of losing friends and having them turn against him. Which is obviously awful. But Lucas is completely confident in his sexuality, he's not ashamed of it, it's not a problem for him, it just is. And that makes Seven Ways We Lie such an important, groundbreaking novel.
"It means I could be attracted to someone of any gender."
"So you're bi."
"It's not quite the same. I... so, basically, there's not just male and female. Some people identify with other genders. And yep, now you look like I'm telling you that aliens have landed."
"What are you talking about, other genders?"
"Well, gender's something society made up. I don't mean biological sex--that's a different thing. But gender--so people think women are one way and men are this other way, but if you blend between the two, for example, then neither gender's a good description, so--"
"--pansexuals can be attracted to any gender, a boy or a girl or somebody off the binary, which, I mean, you can read about this stuff--"
"What? What is it?"
"I don't understand anything you're saying," she says. "Would you hold on for a minute? Let's just... I'm not gonna bite, okay?"
She fixes me with a skeptical look. "Okay. So. How do you know you're not bi? Have you met anyone who thinks they're not--you know, not a--a girl or a boy?"
I shrug. "How do you know you haven't?"
"It's not like they'd be super public about it. Even gayness still has people being all, 'Woah, now, don't get so politcal; this is a lot to deal with.'"' (p239-240)
And we have Valentine, who might just be one of my favourite characters ever! I just love his mind and how he thinks! He is adorable, even if he is a little harsh and anti-social. Valentine has conversations and thoughts about attraction and crushes, and... he just doesn't understand. He's never had a crush. He can tell people are attractive, but he's never been attracted to them. It's not something he's ever experienced, it's not something he really gets. And he's thought about it, what it might feel like, what kissing someone would be like. But it's just never been something he's had any interest in. I was reading, thinking Valentine is asexual - but it's never actually said on the page. I didn't want to tell you guys he's asexual if he isn't, so I asked Redgate on Twitter, and with her permission, I'm posting her answers:
@Jo_Scribbles It's kind of a thorny point; I don't like claiming representation when it's not on-page, but I did write him as ace/aro.— gentle clown (@RileyRedgate) June 29, 2016
@Jo_Scribbles like, i (and many queer people i know) took ages to label, but i still find a lack of label unsatisfying in writing.— gentle clown (@RileyRedgate) June 29, 2016
@Jo_Scribbles it feels inherently cop-out-y to me, even if IRL being label-less *is* a somewhat natural part of the process.— gentle clown (@RileyRedgate) June 29, 2016
So Valentine doesn't identify as asexual and aromantic just yet, which is why it isn't on page, but he would in the future.
All in all, Seven Ways We Lie is such an incredible novel; it's so layered and beautifully human, and I absolutely loved it! Such a fantastic debut novel, and I won't hesitate to read anything Redgate writes in the future. Please, read this book. It's important.
Thank you to Abrams & Chronicle for the review copy.
Published: 8th March 2016
Publisher: Abrams & Chronicle
Riley Redgate's Website