On my last trip to Barnes and Noble I carried a stack of picture books and middle school titles in my arms while my kids toddled along behind me with their own selections in tow. A narrow display stand with a “New for Teens” sign sat just to the left of the entrance to the kid’s section. It wasn’t the shelf itself that caught my eye but the bright yellow book jackets covering every inch of space. Whoever set up the display deserves credit because I was immediately drawn to the books.
My wife’s favorite flower is a daisy. I think that might be part of the subliminal appeal as well. I picked up a copy and read the inside jacket. I thought from my quick scan that the book would be a murder mystery and teen romance. I put the book back on the shelf. Pulp teen romances aren’t my thing.
Flashback: In preparation for my post-Harry Potter malaise in the late 2000s I asked my kids for book recommendations. Twilight was a big deal back then (books, no movies yet!). I decided to give them a try. It was clear that the books spoke to adolescent girls in ways no modern title had before. I had to defuse arguments daily between Team Jacob and Team Edward at lunch. I figured the books had to be amazing! Boy, was I stumped after reading the first two. I was in my early 30s and not yet married. I couldn’t relate to Bella at all and the whole plot dripped with teenage angst and hormones. I respected that my girls were hooked, but I just couldn’t see the appeal.
Which brings me back to last weekend and Barnes and Noble. My initial thought was that The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett would be the same hormonally driven melodrama that Twilight was. Although I had walked three rows away from the display, I made my oldest son go back and get me a copy. Thank goodness I did. This book changed my view of modern teen fiction.
The narrator is Hawthorn Creely, a senior at Griffin Mills High School. Her father is a teacher who specializes in European history and her mother is a hippie-holdover, New Age vegan trying to raise two children who do not share her values. Hawthorn has an older brother who is a former high school jock and currently coaches little league. To my pleasant surprise the family is not really dysfunctional like too many families in modern kid lit. There is a realness in this family that underlies the quality of the writing.
The story opens with the disappearance of Lizzie Lovett, a former cheerleader and All-Everyhing girl at Griffin Mills. Surprisingly, we see Lizzie only once in a flashback scene when Hawthorn was a freshman and Lizzie was a senior. The narrative is driven by Lizzie’s appearance, the cause of that disappearance, and the affect it has on the people who knew her.
Hawthorn struggles to come to grips with Lizzie’s disappearance. Although they were never friends, Hawthorn latches on to an ideal version of Lizzie, a girl who had the world in the palm of her hands with looks and a personality to do anything she wished. But this is where the story becomes something I didn’t expect. The book isn’t about Lizzie; it’s about Hawthorn. In her search for answers to Lizzie’s disappearance, Hawthorn goes on an emotional journey of internal struggles to figure out who she is at the moment and what kind of person she is going to be.
A cast of family, friends, and associates guide Hawthorn along her journey. Lizzie’s boyfriend, Lorenzo Calvetti, is initially suspected in her disappearance. The entire town suspects that Lorenzo murdered Lizzie. When Hawthorn begins to trace Lizzie’s steps from high school sweetheart to diner waitress, she encounters Lorenzo (affectionately known as Enzo) and develops a relationship with him. In her search for answers, Hawthorn reaches an seemingly impossible conclusion: Could Lizzie have been a werewolf? I know, I know! I shook my head when I first read the suggestion, but I kept reading. The Lizzie Hawthorn thought she knew wasn’t the “real” Lizzie. In fact, nobody seems to know who the “real” Lizzie is.
A caravan of hippies set up shop in Hawthorn’s parent’s back yard. Their leader, Sundog, acts a moral compass to help Hawthorn in her journey. Hawthorn’s brother and some of his friends are along for the ride to keep Hawthorn in check when some of her choices backfire. But the closest character to Hawthorn throughout the story is Emily, her best friend. Their friendship is tested on numerous occasions and even appears to be falling apart. Hawthorn faces difficult choices that rapidly change the course of her life.
Many coming-of-age stories focus on younger characters on the cusp of puberty. This story is unique in that most of the characters Hawthorn encounters are out of high school and trying to make their way in the adult world. Lizzie is about to make that leap, but the disappearance of Lizzie throws her for a loop and she feels her foundation slipping out from under her. Her established relationships suffer and she makes new relationship choices that aren’t really in her best interest. However, the journey she takes allows her to see the world in ways she couldn’t have before. Hawthorn’s growth could only have happened in the context of Lizzie’s death and the events that happened in the search for answers.
I loved this book. I’ve read many, many coming-of-age stories over the years, but I have not read a book that so expertly captures the critical time of a child’s life when those first steps into adulthood scare you to death. It’s that uneasy feeling you get when you have graduated high school and then return the next year for a football game or social event. You are no longer a part of that community. The school has changed, the people have changed, and most importantly, you have changed. Chelsea Sedoti captured that moment in time for me. I am glad I had the chance to think about my life in my early 20s but I’m glad I don’t have to go back and do it all over again. I’ll just live vicariously through Hawthorn Creely. Highest recommendation!
Teacher Notes (with spoilers!!)
If you don’t want to know how the story ends, stop here!!
In the end, it is discovered that Lizzie committed suicide. Hawthorn is forced to try to understand what would make Lizzie do something so senseless. But then, Hawthorn gets caught up in the moment and tries to mimic Lizzie’s strangulation by wrapping a scarf around her throat and tightening it. Her brother enters the room and puts a stop to it. Although it’s true that Hawthorn wasn’t trying to commit suicide, her behavior is still disconcerting.
Also, Hawthorn looses her virginity to Enzo. The scene is not vulgar, but for some audiences this may be of major concern.
I would never put this title in my elementary collection and I would strongly suggest that middle school libraries avoid this title. The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett is a critical addition to a high school collection, however. Don’t mistake my warnings for criticism. The book is marketed to teens and that’s the audience that needs to see it.
In my career I taught many young people who needed to read this book. Growing up is hard. Hawthorn’s journey is expertly told with a realism that not many teen books have. I would also recommend this title as a teen book club selection. Consider the following themes for discussion:
- Loss of innocence
- Relationship changes
- Family relationships