Sophie Topper Quinn was born and raised in the small, close-knit military town of Sweethaven, North Carolina. When she was eleven, her mother cheated on her father—while he was serving in Iraq—and shortly after, left. Not just left, but broke off all contact with her daughter.
As she shared a first name with her mother, Sophie's father stopped calling her by her name. Since then, she's been Quinn—not just to her father, but to everyone in town.
Now she's seventeen, it's her senior year, and as far as all of Sweethaven knows, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree: a few months back, Quinn was caught with a boy other than Carey—her childhood sweetheart and perfection personified—who is currently serving in Afghanistan. No one but Quinn knows who the boy in the picture is—his back was to the camera—but no one really seems to care about that: not when they've got Quinn in their crosshairs.
The thing is, Quinn didn't cheat.
But defending herself would mean revealing a secret she's promised to keep. A secret that would affect Carey's life and career, and Quinn's sense of honor and her love for and loyalty to Carey won't allow her to do that. So at school, she's tormented by classmates, physically and verbally assaulted—her school principal doesn't lift a finger to help her, because he believes that she's got it coming—while at home, she's ignored by her father.
And that's before Carey goes MIA.
Yes, If I Lie is about a girl in a situation that could be fixed—for herself, at any rate—by just telling the whole story. However, while that can be annoying in some cases*, it works very well here. For one thing, she promised: it's not her secret to tell. For another, while telling would make her own life easier in the short term, it would cause huge, life-changing, possibly dangerous changes for Casey in the long-term. Finally—and my personal favorite—despite the daily torment that she puts up with, there's a small undercurrent of satisfaction that runs through Quinn: when people are being hateful, she knows that underneath it all, she's in the right and they're in the wrong. It's subtle, but it's there, and it makes her voice feel that much more emotionally honest.
This Cybils season, I've read quite a few books about characters who deal with the challenges of being in a military family—Personal Effects, Breaking Beautiful, and Pushing the Limits are the three that immediately come to mind, though I suspect there are more—but so far, If I Lie has been my favorite.
Beyond the trials and tribulations of Quinn's personal life, If I Lie also offers up a complicated view of military culture. It isn't demonized—something I'm sensitive to, as one whole side of my family is Navy born-and-bred—but it doesn't shy away portraying the less-attractive aspects of it, either. While it's true that Quinn's troubles stem from the military, both among her peer group and within her family, her main source of support also comes from the military, in the form of her Veterans History Project partner: George Wilkins, a world-famous photographer** and Vietnam veteran. And, for that matter, it seems likely that her ingrained sense of honor and loyalty—which is a real source of strength for her—can be at least partially explained by her upbringing.
But even beyond that, If I Lie is a strong read because it doesn't offer up any easy answers. In this story, love doesn't survive all, and while forgiveness happens on some fronts, it doesn't happen on all of them: as Katniss Everdeen can attest, there are just some things that a relationship—whether it is a friendship or a romance—can't survive. Sophie ultimately walks away from some of the people in her life, and that feels honest, too.
Recommended across the board to fans of realistic contemporaries.
*Especially stories in which the protagonist keeps coming up with completely unbelievable rationalizations for staying mute, OR MY PERSONAL FAVORITE, the interrupted-sentence technique ("Jasper, I must reveal this completely crucial—" "DAMMIT, I STUBBED MY TOE. What was that you were saying?" "Oh... never mind.")
Book source: Finished copy from the publisher. This book was read for the 2012 Cybils season.