Constant Reader YA Book of The Month May 2024

David B Morris
12 min readMay 12, 2024

The Best Lies By Sarah Lyu: How Obsession Can Destroy And The Gravity of Trauma

Author’s Note: As someone who loves both books and libraries, I am more than aware of the attacks on them. As a sign of support I am expanding my Constant Reader Book of the Month to two books from this point on. One of them will be found in Young Adult Section; one for more adult readers, and at least one entry will be one that I recently read in a library. Regardless of their classification, all of these books will be appropriate for readers of any age.

Not long after Remy and Elise in The Best Lies become friends Remy learns that Elise’s favorite movies is Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Elise has watched the movies so often that she can mouth the dialogue even with the sound muted. Remy watches them frequently but can’t understand why the movies fascinate Elise so and why she sees so much of herself as The Bride.

By the end of the book, in the midst of dealing with so much grief, Remy watches the entire film and is reduced to weeping at the end. She believes that the movie is about revenge, which is the epigraph that opens the film when in fact is about abuse. Elise has been an admirer of the movie because she sees the Bride as the ultimate bad ass and a superhero. At one point in the book when she is forming a gang and searching for a name for it, Remy suggests the Deadly Vipers a variation of the name of the gang that Bill leads in the movies that Uma Thurman’s character was at the center of a massacre that killed eight people and put her in a coma for four years.

I think, however, there is a very real possibility that both Elise and Remy have misread the purpose of the film and that purpose becomes clear in the final half-hour, which is one of the most famous sections in all of Tarantino’s movies. Because I believe it provides a theme to The Best Lies as well, I will summarize as much of it as I can.

At the end of the movie by the time Beatrix Kiddo has tracked down Bill, he knows what is coming and is prepared to engage in a duel to the death. However, he wants the truth about why she has come to kill him — and he believes that she is incapable of telling the truth even to herself. He shoots with truth serum and while he waits for it to take effect he tells a story that is fitting not just to the narrative but much of how Elise sees herself in the Bride.

Like Elise he is fond of comic books about superheroes. His favorite comic is Superman. Elise finds it boring and Bill thinks its not well drawn but the mythology fascinates him. He reminds that in every comic there is a superhero and the alter ego. “When Peter Parker wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on the costume to become Spiderman. And it is that respect Superman stands alone.

“Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman… Clark Kent is the costume. And how does Clark Kent see the world? He’s weak, he’s unsure of himself, he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s commentary on the human race. Kind of like Beatrix Kiddo and Mrs. Tommy Plimpton.”

He then tells the bride that Mrs. Tommy Plimpton was the costume but she was born Beatrix Kiddo. When the Bride jokes if Bill is calling her a superhero, he tells her “I’m calling you a killer.” Her life with Tommy was trying to fit in with the hive. “But you’re not a worker bee. You’re a renegade killer bee.”

Then he asks her: “Did you really think your life in El Paso was going to last?”

Across both volumes the Bride has been telling the story that she has been on this path of bloody revenge because Bill learned about her and the Vipers killed Tommy and everyone who had been part of her life in El Paso. Thurman visibly struggles before she tearfully cries: “No! But I would have had BB!” Bill says he thought she would have made a wonderful mother “but you are a killer. All those people you killed to get to me, felt good didn’t it? Every single one of them?” The Bride says yes to both. In it everything Beatrix has been arguing the whole film falls away. She might have done this out of revenge but she was also acknowledging her nature.

In their final conversation, it’s worth noting, Bill also points out to Beatrix that he assumed that she had been killed, had mourned her and tracked her down by accident because he’d wanted his own revenge. When he tells her that he overreacted, he points out: “I am a murdering bastard. And there are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard. Did you really not expect a reaction?” Beatrix tells him. “Could you do what you did? I suppose so. But I never thought you could do those things to me.” Bill’s answer is. “Sorry to disappoint.” The unfinished business they have is on both sides, something it’s hard to know if Beatrix admits even before she finally kills him.

Elise has spent her entire life wearing a costume of someone who is daring, fearless and brave. It is what Remy is drawn to when they first meet, it is why they become friends and why she follows her. Many of the people who are drawn into Elise’s orbit believe the costume she wears is real. Only Remy gets glimpses throughout the novel of how broken Remy truly is, but whenever she gets hints of her ‘secret identity’, Elise puts the costume back on — or just as frightening to Elise, reveals more of her nature.

When The Best Lies begins Remy is dealing with the death of Jack, her boyfriend and she knows that Elise was the one that pulled the trigger. Much of the book deals with the fact that Remy, like Elise, has been wearing her own costume her whole life. Her family in a small suburb of Atlanta is one of the few Asian families in the county and the Tsai family has been wearing a costume Remy’s whole life. Her parents have the perfect marriage, her mother is a pillar of the community her brother Christian is the golden child. What no one knows until the book begins is what Remy knows — the Tsai family is wearing a costume and behind closed doors their parents have made their lives a battlefield.

Her mother and father have been screaming at each other as long as she has been alive. Her mother has been accusing her father of infidelity, something he is occasionally guilty of, and that she has never forgotten. There is a holding pattern in the Tsai household: no one comes to the house when the parents are home in order not to hear the fighting. The Tsai’s usually have the common sense not fight in public; by the time the action takes place, even that façade is falling apart.

Christian and Remy have been pawns in this war their whole lives, and as a result haven’t spoken to each other in years even though they attend the same high school. Christian is their mother’s favorite, Remy their fathers. Christian is in his senior year at the start of the novel, heading to Brown. Remy is seventeen and has chanted a mantra all year. My name is Remy Tsai. I am seventeen years old. This won’t last forever. As the action begins her parents can’t even stop screaming at each other about Remy’s involvement; Remy wonders if her mother even cares about her daughter’s feelings or how this will impact her image in the community. It’s telling that the novel ends with this question never clearly answered.

A repeated line in the novel is ‘Trauma has a gravity all its own.” What bonds Elise and Remy from the start of their relationship is their shared trauma. For Remy it comes at the age of five when she hears her parents yelling at each other and the two of them hide in a closet. When she comes out she hears her mother leaving a loud, angry voice mail to her father in which she says she now understands why some women kill their children — “because their husbands were off f — king other women.” These will be the kinds of voicemails Remy hears all her life and while she understands some of them are for show, the coldness of her mother’s response is one of her first real memories, one she never truly got over.

The novels flashes from the present to the start of Remy’s friendship with Elise which begins the fall of her junior year. (It’s referred to as Day 1). Remy’s boyfriend, now a college freshman, has coldly broken up with her and Remy who has few friends and few real relationships, is in a dark place when a girl walks up to her with a cigarette. “The patron saint of the wronged and my savior, Elise Ferro.” Even at the start of their relationship Remy notes her beauty and the sharpness of her blue eyes “every glance a spark, like they held a live current behind them, a glimmer of something thrilling and a little scary.”

Elise seems to come from a fantasy world — or a comic book. She drives a pink Cadillac she inherited from her mother. She has moved into an area called the Pink Mansion, one of the few estates in the area. Even the first time she enters it Remy notes the neglect and lack of care. We are reminded of Wayne Manor the great mansion of Gotham that holds dark secrets inside. Elise mentions that she inherited it from her grandparents and that her mother is gone, the first of many parallels that the book draws between her as Bruce Wayne. At one point in the novel, Elise says the superhero she admires the most is Batman which makes sense because by that point we know that Elise, like Batman, is a vigilante who has her own definition of justice.

That is clear on their first night when Elise convinces Remy to perform their first prank, bringing a string of firecrackers to the home of Elise’s now ex-boyfriend and setting them off in the name of payback. Looking back Remy believes this is the start of an adventure and feels like she’s floating. Then she brings Elise back to her home and witnesses another one of her parents, loud, angry fights. Elise doesn’t judge, just invites Remy to her house for the night. They never bring it up again.

Remy has spent her life never bringing friends home and deflecting questions about her family. Elise is the first person who’s ever seen the truth and Remy feels safe in a way she never has. Because Elise met Remy at one of the lowest moments of her life, she feels there is a bond they can never break.

The warning signs come when Remy tries to welcome Elise in to her circle of friends and Elise acts very hostilely towards Melody, then her best friend. Over the course of the next few weeks, Elise subtly maneuvers Melody out of Remy’s life and Remy into her own. Elise then learns how far Remy is willing to go for justice when in her next act she commits a more aggressive act of vandalism. Elise tells Remy that Elise and Melody’s dreams are boring that she wants to be remembered. “Why even bother being alive if you’re not going to leave a mark?” she tells Elise early in their friendship. This is the first real clue of how close to the darkness Elise is but Remy doesn’t see it. As the novel progresses the clues become clearer.

It’s then she convinces Remy to watch Kill Bill the first time. Elise loves the film because she doesn’t believe the Bride is a victim but a survivor. “She doesn’t have anyone but she doesn’t need anyone anymore. She lives and breathes revenge.” Elise has forgotten that the moment the Bride sees her daughter — the daughter she thought was dead — she immediately finds a new path.

Eventually she learns the truth. Elise’s mother abandoned her at eleven and her father has been abusing her for years. At one point the beatings became so bad that she ran to a neighbor’s house but when social services were called the beatings had healed and she was put back in her father’s care. Elise’s father (who we never see in the novel) has been dating a realtor in the area and a fragile peace has been maintained since then.

The longer Elise and Remy are friends the more erratic she becomes and the more determined she is to bring her form of justice to her school and her neighborhood. But after a while Remy wants to back away from her. One night Elise is left alone.

That’s where she meets Jack. Jack also meets Remy at a nadir of her life but his reaction is different. He takes her to one of his favorite places and tells her that he has this feeling of being incomplete that he’s missing something. Remy has felt this way her whole life but has never been able to put it into words. They form an instant, romantic connection and unlike with Elise, he instantly tells her everything that’s wrong with his life. That same night when she reconnects with Elise, she is drunk and upset (for reasons I won’t get into) and her reaction is to perform a horrific prank.

In the second half of the story as Remy grows closer to Jack, Elise becomes increasingly possessive of her. It’s never clear if Elise is sexually attracted to Remy or simply possessive of her, but almost immediately its clear the two can’t get along. Remy doesn’t realize it even as she tells us the story, but much of the shared behavior — Elise’s increasingly raging at Remy, Remy’s lying in order to avoid her — has the mark of an abusive relationship itself. At a certain point Remy tries to cut Elise out of her life entirely — and as a result, something horrible happens that changes their relationship again — and explains much of Remy’s attitude towards the police in the present.

We know from the start of the novel how the saga between Elise, Jack and Remy will end but it is all about the how, so I won’t tell that part of it. What I will say is that, in the last hundred pages of the book, it is clear to the reader but not Remy that Elise has passed the point of no return when it comes to all the relationships in her life. In the last days before the shooting it is clear just how far gone Elise is even to Remy but she is still trying to protect her from the consequences out of her own guilt. What happens is a combination of exhaustion, an inability to choose between the two people who care for her the most in radically different ways, and her unwillingness to recognize just how far gone her friend is.

There are actually two climaxes to this novel, one in the past, and one in the present. It is in the latter that Remy finally realizes the costume Elise has been wearing all this time and who Elise truly is and always has been beneath it. This shouldn’t come as a huge shock considering that, along with every superhero, there’s always a great trauma causing them to put on the costume and to right the wrongs in the first place. By that point Remy has realized what some readers of comic books eventually do: that no matter how many wrongs they right they will never be whole and that was clearly true of Elise well before they ever met.

The Best Lies is the first novel of Sarah Lyu but it has the confidence of someone who already has a dozen books behind them. I don’t know what world Lyu lives in that she can understand so much about the trauma, abuse and the conflicts of being a teenager so well, but she knows how to tell a story that grabs the reader from the first page and never lets you go for a moment. Her second novel I Will Find You Again was published just last year and I can’t wait to find it and devour it. The Best Lies looks like it could be the origin story of the most dazzling YA novelist in a long time.

The novel ends with us uncertain of Elise’s fate and Remy has no idea what hers will be, There are promises of light for Remy but she knows they could be false. But The Best Lies does offer hope in the fact that Remy has accepted something that Elise never seemed able to. You can choose to break free of the gravity of the trauma that defines you, the way that Beatrix Kiddo’s and Bruce Wayne never could. Maybe the real superheroes are the ones who don’t put on costumes or exact justice but the ones who deal with the traumas in their lives and find a way to let go. Remy doesn’t have great power but in the final scene of the book, she is shouldering a great responsibility.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.