(Image from Barnes & Noble)
In the moment before Jaleel's father killed himself, he told the 12-year-old to run. Jaleel should have listened. Instead, he called 911, hoping it might be possible to save his mother at least. No such luck. Now, not only are both his parents dead by his father's hand, but Jaleel is being accused of killing them. As a black boy in central Texas with no money and no family, he's also got no chance. Even in the early 1980s, racism is rampant in Peartree County. Sent to a juvenile holding facility, a shell-shocked Jaleel knows his life is over.
When Jaleel gets the chance to escape, he takes it. Ending up in North Hollywood, he rebuilds his life. As long as he keeps to himself, he's able to attend high school, play baseball, and get a real shot at an Ivy League education.
Then, he meets a wealthy white girl.
Although 15-year-old Alexandra Baten lives not far from Jaleel, her posh Toluca Lake neighborhood might as well be the moon for all the resemblance it bears to Jaleel's part of town. Still, when Alex meets Jaleel, she's fascinated. He's a smart guy, bright and funny. She's never met anyone like him. Knowing her socialite mother will freak if she finds out Alex is hanging around a black boy from the wrong part of town, Alex tells no one about Jaleel.
Jaleel figures befriending Alex will lead to trouble, but he has no idea just how much when she asks him to do her an innocent favor ...
Once Upon A Lie by Michael French has lots of the elements I usually dig in a book—family drama, racial tension, a star-crossed love story, etc. At its heart, it's a story about rising above injustice, another theme I'm usually keen on. I think the novel has good bones; it's just that they're tough to find, hidden as they are by layers of overwritten prose, purposeless detail, and meandering tangents. At 401 pages, the saga is about 200 pages too long. The tale starts with a bang (literally), sags, picks up in the middle with a misplaced climax, then limps to a disappointing finish. Because the characters in Once Upon A Lie are such a whiny, self-absorbed bunch, it's tough to care about any of them for that length of time. Overall, for me, this novel was a long, dull slog. A pity, because in the hands of a diligent editor it could have been whittled down into a tight, impacting story about triumph over racism and prejudice. As is, it's too long, too unfocused, too preachy. And depressing to boot. I finished it because I had committed to do so; otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered.
As often is the case, I appear to be in the minority on this one. Once Upon A Lie gets rave reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. You can read even more opinions by visiting these stops on the book's blog tour:
Monday, May 2nd: 5 Minutes for Books
Tuesday, May 3rd: Books a la Mode – guest post
Wednesday, May 4th: Reading Cove Book Club
Friday, May 6th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Monday, May 9th: Hoser’s Blook
Wednesday, May 11th: Lavish Bookshelf
Thursday, May 12th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Monday, May 16th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, May 18th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
(Readalikes: Hm, nothing really comes to mind. You?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for strong language, violence, sexual content, and brief mention of illegal drug use