cover image The Good Liar

The Good Liar

Gregory Maguire. Clarion Books, $16 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-395-90697-2

Neither saint nor hero nor villain, Fat Marcel endures the WWII German occupation of his rural French village with boyish spirits. He and his older brothers are hungrier than usual and they don't especially like the Jewish woman and her daughter who are staying at their home, but they continue their pranks, especially their favorite game of trying to con one another into believing elaborate lies. Nothing is black-and-white: Maman has her prejudices (""The Jews... are different""), and Marcel has to use his skills at lying to cover up his friendship with a young German soldier, which he continues even after the family's Jewish guests disappear in a roundup. Maguire (Oasis) develops his characters and setting with such insight and vigor that readers will not see just how carefully he sets up the monumental surprise in store for Marcel--even though there's clearly a lesson about heroism in the offing, the story gives few hints of where it will be found. A frame story, in which some Florida schoolgirls write to the now-grown Marcel as part of a homework assignment, gets the book off to a jangly, slang-filled start (and serves as a self-congratulatory conclusion), but it doesn't interfere with the otherwise robust narrative. Ages 9-up. (Mar.)