The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu – A Flawless Mystery/Thriller Debut about Toxic Friendships, Trauma, and Flawed Teens

Text: The Best Lies, Sarah Lyu. Image: A blue and pink lollipop, smeared against a pink surface.

Blurb:

Remy Tsai used to know how her story would turn out. But now, she doesn’t even know what tomorrow will look like.

She was happy once. Remy had her boyfriend Jack, and Elise, her best friend—her soulmate—who understood her better than anyone else in the world.

But now Jack is dead, shot through the chest—

And it was Elise who pulled the trigger.

Was it self-defense? Or something deeper, darker than anything Remy could have imagined? As the police investigate, Remy does the same, sifting through her own memories, looking for a scrap of truth that could save the friendship that means everything to her.

CW’s Review:

Quite frankly, The Best Lies came for me. And by that, I mean that when I picked up this book, I did not know what to expect. What I did not expect, however, was for this book to blow my mind, become one of my favourite reads of 2019, and make me think about it at almost every waking hour.

I picked up The Best Lies when I saw Vicky from Vicky Who Reads and Lili from Utopia State of Mind talk about this book, and, to be honest, I am so grateful that they talked about this book. The Best Lies is a stunning but heart-wrenching YA mystery thriller debut about obsessive friendships, dysfunctional relationships, and the stories we tell ourselves. It is one of the most complex and incredible depictions of an intense toxic friendship that I have ever read. This book is an achievement. 

A THRILLING MYSTERY THAT WILL KEEP YOU GUESSING

Going into this book, all I knew was that this book was about ‘toxic friendships’ – and not much else beyond that. So when The Best Lies opens with Remy’s boyfriend being shot to death by her best friend, needless to say: I was mortified but also very intrigued. Told in alternating narratives between the past and the present, the story follows Remy Tsai and the friendship she develops with the enigmatic and daring Elise. It’s not a whodunit – it’s a ‘whydunit’, and the story delves into the history between Remy and Elise, and the wicked road that the both of them to the death of Remy’s boyfriend.

The Best Lies is the kind of the thriller-mystery that keeps you guessing as the story unfolds – I could feel the gears of my brain turning continuously. But underneath all the high stakes and the ultimately fatal outcome of their friendship, The Best Lies is fantastic because its core is rooted in an ordinary and mundane thing: that some friendships can be toxic and terrible for us and that is something that is more common than we recognise. Thus, The Best Lies is a powerful and haunting story that boasts a carefully-written and deft balance between the thrilling and gripping elements of a mystery and an ordinary and quiet story about two girls and their friendship that escalates into something more than they could ever anticipate.

A POWERFUL PORTRAYAL OF TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS

In young adult books, there are a lot of stories about friendships or depict healthy and positive friendships, whilst depictions of friendships that are messy, toxic, and bad for us are sparse in comparison. Not only is the portrayal of toxic friendships incredibly important and needed, the portrayal of toxic friendships was incredible and so realistic. In The Best Lies, the friendship between Remy and Elise is so compelling, complex, and intense – every interaction they share is not only crucial to their friendship’s development, but it also shows how their friendship devolves into something that is toxic, how it transforms in insidious and subtle ways. I can pretty confidently say that the friendship between Remy and Elise – its dynamic, the details, and the convincing authenticity of it – may be one of the best portrayals of a complex relationship I have read – ever.

However, The Best Lies is not only about a toxic friendship. It’s also a story about chronically dysfunctional families and the effect toxic relationships have on others. In particular, Remy’s family is far from perfect – her home is a battleground between her mother and father, both of which threaten each other with divorce and manipulate each other. Elise, on the other hand, has no family and she hides a dark and terrible secret about her father. Given that both feel alienated by those who should unconditionally love them, Remy and Elise find solace and a tether to connection in each other. In a way, The Best Lies is about how we find other people to fill the void and how that fulfilment can take on a darker and desperate outcome, and what people do when someone threatens the thing that tethers us.

ABOUT FLAWED AND MESSY TEENS – AND TRAUMA

Indeed, the story is a thriller and its momentum comes from the mystery element of the story – why did Elise shoot Remy’s boyfriend? was it self-defense or another motive? – but what I also loved about this book was that, in a way, the story is simply about two flawed teen girls. Remy is someone who you may call a ‘doormat’; she is a little awkward, she lays low, and she’s deeply vulnerable. On the other hand, Elise is like a hurricane; she is bold, confident, and has a perchance for revenge and will enact justice with her bare hands. I appreciate when teenage characters, particularly teen girl characters, are portrayed as messy individuals — because life is messy, people are messy, and I think there’s a strange stigma towards characters, especially girls of colour, to be portrayed as anything but perfect. Teenagehood is a messy time where mistakes are inevitable, ‘bad’ choices are abundant, and it’s a time where teens are exploring and coming to terms with the circumstances of the world and their lives. Thus, I appreciated that The Best Lies was the sort of young adult book that gave room for its characters to make mistakes, be incredibly messy in their morals and choices, and unapologetically flawed.

However, what I loved was how the story captures how teenagers aren’t just inherently messy people. Rather, the story explores how our past, histories and the lessons that we have learned (for better or for worse) are intrinsically a part of who someone is. In particular, The Best Lies delves into the impact of trauma, and how it can shape a person, the relationships they have with people, and also a relationship’s dynamic. Furthermore, the story also explores the stories we tell ourselves, and how these stories can have significant impact on the way we perceive the world and the choices we make — hence the title of the book. Remy and Elise’s portraits as human beings are so well-written and perfectly articulated, that, by the end, readers will really ‘get’ who Remy and Elise are as individuals. Their personalities are so clearly and boldly articulated that, even though you may not condone their decisions, you will empathise with them and you will understand why they do the things they do – and I think that is a clear testament to Lyu’s brilliant writing.

MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Quite frankly, I could write a whole essay on The Best Lies. I truly think this is such an intricate story, rich with so many details that give the complexity of life and all its messiness justice. I think my review above is pretty long-winded and messy (not intentionally) but trust me: the fact that this book has given me so many things to talk about should be a hint to how incredible and powerful this book is. I’m calling it: The Best Lies is one of my favourite books of 2019, and I am so glad that I read this. I cannot recommend this book so much, and I look forward to reading Lyu’s future work.

Goodreads | Book Depository | My short review on Goodreads


Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A teen’s boyfriend is shot dead by her best friend – only, she doesn’t quite remember what happened that night.

Perfect for: Readers who love mystery thrillers; readers who love character-driven stories; readers who love reading about complex relationships.

Think twice if: You don’t like reading about flawed characters; you don’t feel like a darker read.

Genre: young adult, mystery, thriller, contemporary

Trigger/content warning: emotional abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, manipulation, alcohol use, smoking, death, murder, frequent mentions of a gun, blood mention, suicidal ideation, intense and distressing familial conflict


Let’s discuss!

I did not expect this book to be a new favourite book, but, here we are. (Also, contrary to some misconceptions, this book does not have any explicit f/f representation!)

I don’t often pick up thriller/mystery books, but my last two thriller/mystery reads: Sadie and now this, have been books that I really enjoyed. Maybe I should read more thriller/fantasy?

  • Have you read The Best Lies? What did you think?
  • Have you read a book that depicted a toxic friendship before? What book was it?
  • Do you have any recommendations for a YA thriller/mystery?

9 thoughts on “The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu – A Flawless Mystery/Thriller Debut about Toxic Friendships, Trauma, and Flawed Teens

  1. I love mystery/thrillers and especially ones that deal with important issues in a very realistic and authentic way as possible. Flawed characters are my favourite so I’m really excited to add this to my TBR. Lovely review!

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  2. Thrillers aren’t my go-to genre but between thor review and the hype from Vicky and Lili, I’m sold on this book. going to buy the ebook as soon as I can.

    Two thrillers I enjoyed that seem to have a similar vibe to The Best Lies are A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo and Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn, if you haven’t read them I highly recommend them.

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  3. YOUR REVIEWS 😍😍😭😭 thank you for blessing me with them, & I just downloaded this book. Not gonna lie, I’m not a big fan of its cover, which is why I sorta passed it by when I saw it in Vicky’s blog, but this review was so convincing that I just had to automatically add this book to my TBR!

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  4. Oooooh, I’m so excited for this. I thought it sounded intriguing, but it keeps getting lost in the shuffle of my TBR. I’m totally moving it up to the way top now. I was super intrigued because I so rarely see anything about toxic friendships in YA, and I definitely would have loved to see more of it since it’s such an important topic. There seems like there is so much to unpack in it – and I definitely didn’t see that coming from the cover. Wonderful review! 🙂

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  5. This review has convinced me! I’m always wary about thrillers because, while I love them, I tend to feel wildly disappointed if they are same-same and predictable. But this book sounds like it has so much with the complex relationships driving the plot that it is absolutely going on my TBR.

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  6. WHOA I love that this book is a thriller written by an Asian author, and that it portrays messy teenagers so wonderfully!! Okay, this kind of gives me vibes of Bad Girls With Perfect Faces, which… I totally recommend (altho it is a very white book).

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