Gary Paulsen is perhaps best known for his survival epic Hatchet, but he has a huge body of work for young people–especially boys. Liar, Liar revolves around Kevin. Kevin is a middle school student and a self-admitted liar. He considers himself to be an extremely good liar and he considers lying to be an important and necessary part of navigating life.
Kevin narrates the story, beginning by giving the reader examples of situations where lies are truly the best option. Many of his examples will ring true with his readers: telling parents and teachers what they want to hear and repeating to his friends what they’ve already said. Kevin’s belief is that lying actually makes life better for everyone, so he’s really “lying for the greater good.”
Based on this philosphy Kevin uses his talent for lying to concoct a complicated scheme to convince Tina Zabinski that he would be the perfect boyfriend for her. His lies enmesh friends, family, teachers and fellow students. Predictably, Kevin’s lies grow beyond his control.
At the same time Kevin begins to realize the enormity of the problems his lies have created, he also starts to realize that there are elements at work within his family to which he has been oblivious. There is serious tension and unhappiness between his parents and distance between all family members that has grown to the point where it must be addressed. Through Kevin’s interaction with his siblings, a rambunctious neighbor boy whom he babysits and his new observations at school he starts to change his attitude toward lying. For the first time he sees its potential to be hurtful to those on the receiving end of his lies and the disadvantages for him, personally.
The way in which Kevin’s new vision of his family winds its way into his changing perception of lying (and its consequences for others besides himself) is the genius of the story. Paulsen allows Kevin to mature in his insights, beliefs and goals in a realistic way with which all readers–particularly the younger ones–can easily identify. This is an easy read and a great independent reading selection for middle grades.