When I picked up If I Lie from the library shelf, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. From the description on the book jacket I thought it’d be your typical angst-filled novel about high school relationships, cheating, and the teenage rumor mill.
If I Lie is so much bigger than that. Yes, it does involve some high school drama, but Jackson’s story is really about honor, sacrifice, and the painful decisions people are forced to make every day.
In Sweethaven, North Carolina, everyone is either a veteran, active service member, or a close relative of a veteran or active service member. As citizens of a town built on military pride, nothing is more important to the inhabitants of Sweethaven than 1) serving your country and 2) showing loyalty to those who serve. Therefore, when Quinn is caught cheating on her boyfriend Carey while he’s away at war, it’s a betrayal of the entire town.
Carey is Sweethaven’s golden boy, THE hero in a town that’s full of them. He serves his community, stands up for the weak, and can coax a smile from even the sternest of veterans. As Quinn states, “He belongs to this town, and we belong to him.” Strong, kind, and noble, Carey embodies everything that Sweethaven stands for. By cheating on him, Quinn is essentially spitting in the face of everyone who serves – which, in Sweethaven, is practically everyone.
As you can imagine, Quinn’s neighbors don’t take well to her infidelity. Her friends abandon her, her classmates reject her, and her own father – a military man himself – is so disgusted that he sentences her to volunteer at a VA hospital to try to atone for the dishonor on their family. Quinn is ignored at best, harassed at worst, and things only get worse when Carey goes missing in action.
Here’s the thing, though: Quinn isn’t really a cheater. She could easily tell people the truth, explain herself and put a stop to the torment, but this would mean betraying someone she’s honor-bound to protect. So Quinn grits her teeth and determines to keep her promises – and her secrets – regardless of the cost.
This idea of honor, and the price of honor, is a central theme of If I Lie. In order to be to be a hero, you must be prepared to make sacrifices. The thing about sacrifices, though, is that they have implications for more people than the individual who originally makes them. Quinn’s life in particular has been molded by the sacrifices of those around her. Her dad has sacrificed his family’s needs for those of the military. Her mom has sacrificed her daughter and husband for a new life with the man she loves. And others, Quinn included, have sacrificed truth for a number of reasons: to keep people safe, to comfort loved ones, to save another’s reputation, etc. To get X, you must give up Y. But is it worth it?
Part of this book’s beauty is that nothing is black and white. In some ways the characters are incredibly heroic, and in other ways they are so, so selfish. They’re flawed, scared, and conflicted. They use people, force each other to hide shameful secrets, and place high demands on their friends and family. And yet, their intentions are usually good. You can understand the characters’ motivations, feel sorry for them, and still not necessarily condone their choices. It’s an uncomfortable experience in a way, because you find yourself asking, “What would I have done in so-and-so’s shoes? What should I have done? Is there even a right or wrong here?”
There’s a great scene between Quinn and her favorite patient at the VA hospital that really sums up If I Lie in a nutshell: ‘“Nobody’s perfect,’ he says, his voice weighted with sadness. ‘We’re all just doing the best we can.’”
If I Lie is an exceptional story, worthy of more than the 5 stars to which I’m limited here. The characters are spot-on, the plot is outstanding, and the ending is flawless. Moreover, this book really opened my eyes to the sacrifices of the men and women in the armed forces – and their families – who have made possible the liberty and prosperity I enjoy today. I am so, so grateful to these people, and I salute Corinne Jackson for bringing their stories to my attention.