Reading Log | Reading Your Best Friend’s Book

Somehow, sneaking back into prison is always harder than sneaking out of it.

The reasonable part of me knows it’s because everyone’s asleep when I sneak out at night, and that by the time I return in the early morning, the dreary gray building is already starting to wake. But the cynical part of me thinks it has more to do with how the guards would be only too happy to get rid of me and all too reluctant to take me in.

A Soldier and a Liar; Caitlin Lochner

This Book Made Me Feel Things

There’s something nostalgic in opening a book you read years ago to read it all over again with fresh eyes and a changed mind—and something incredibly satisfying in getting to know that book a second time over after years of nurturing, coaxing, and loving hands working it over.

I didn’t expect to be so emotional when I finally got my preorder delivery of A Soldier and a Liar, and that was a serious oversight on my part. I read the first lines, overcome with the feeling of finality. A book that I had read in high school—a paperback, if I remember correctly, back when it was still titled This Is How We Fall Apart—was now a sleek hardback with blurbs on the back and my friend’s name on the front.

I’ve seen people talk about how hard it is to read their friends’ work. Not because they don’t want to support them but because they’re afraid of their reactions—what happens if they love it, but people don’t believe them because their friend is the author? Or worse, what if they hate it? How do they say that they hate their friends’ work?

In reading, I felt a strange sense of tranquility, interspersed with peaks of excitement, heart-pounding worry, and a healthy dose of love as the story went on. I had read it before, but not in this form. Not with years of work kneaded into the pages as skillfully as a weaponsmith folds crude metal into a fine masterpiece. There wasn’t a trace of the worries that I’d come to believe would wiggle their way into my head; I’m more than a little grateful for that because I feel that if I’d been too busy worrying, I wouldn’t have been able to spend time actually enjoying the book. I wouldn’t have been able to fall in love with the world, or the characters, or their relationships and struggles all over again, and I wouldn’t have been able to truly appreciate how much work I could see that Caitlin put into A Soldier and a Liar.

Speaking of the Book…

My first read through in 2012 was around the height of The Hunger Games intrigue. Caitlin actually introduced me to the series, and A Soldier and a Liar has been blurbed as The Hunger Games meets X-Men. I think a lot of dystopias fall into that pit because The Hunger Games is iconic and still holds a lot of really amazing commentary. I think there’s something more tangible in A Soldier and a Liar in a way The Hunger Games, while a great series in its own right, was not. There’s a major theme covering the military-industrial complex and the exploitation of recruitment practices on the marginalized; nuclear warfare and the human impact on the environment is the reason for the uninhabitable state of the outside world and humans have to contend with that on top of limited resources because of this. There’s even commentary on how superstition and distrust bred through religion often leads to the marginalization of those who are different from the majority.

These themes aren’t exemplified through a futuristic gladiatorial tournament and satirized commentary on the privileged people of society, but through what feels like a very real look into what could be a near future, where nuclear wars change the way the world looks and the people in it, and rather than working together to make it better those most affected by humanity’s choices are the ones ultimately marginalized and pitted against each other in a war that they didn’t start. These people are young, have experienced trauma, and yet they’re doing what the adults in their world either refuse to do or are ineffectual at doing: getting shit done.

While I’m no longer a ‘young adult’ in YA terms, reading it, I was like… yeah. I feel this. And the most powerful part of this book is the fact that it doesn’t shy away from the fact that, more often than not, it’s young people that have to shoulder the burden of these systems. It’s young people who become Nytes—the super-human group of people who are implied to have gotten their powers through nuclear warfare—and it’s these same young people who are simultaneously blamed for the ills of the world and called upon to fix them by those in power. These themes were there when I first read the book, but their meaning and their implications today left a visceral impression on me, especially when paired with Lai and Jay as the POV characters, who shoulder a lot of the core burdens brought on by the world that they live in. I could easily see my teenage self in them, and teens of today with similar struggles.

Herein Lies My Attempts to Sum Up My Feelings

I suppose there’s a different kind of pleasure in reading a book that was written by a friend, a person you’ve known for years and who you know has put blood, sweat, and tears into writing and getting published. Because you know them, and the often behind the scenes struggles that come with being a writer, seeing them succeed is just a good feeling.

I’m so proud of Caitlin, and her book. I can’t wait to read the second in the series, and I can’t wait to see what she does after.

A Soldier and a Liar is for you if you: are looking for a new YA science fiction dystopia; like cunning female protagonists; like plot lines with sketchy military practices and lots of secrecy; have a thing for found families.

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