Reviews /

The Boy Who Lied

Authored by Kim Slater
Published by Pan Macmillan

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The Boy Who Lied: A gripping story set against the backdrop of an eight-year-old child, Sam, who has gone missing. After sustaining a head injury, over the next few days his older brother Ed tries desperately to remember what happened at the park. The only issue is that Ed has been well-known for telling lies, and now nobody believes him. This modern, gritty British story has foundations in the ‘boy who cried wolf’ fable. Ed using lying as a defence strategy. He knows this that lying is wrong and it has got out of hand, but he can’t help trying to escape his everyday stresses by painting a very different picture of his life and as the book unfolds, we begin to understand why he does this.

The book follows the days after Sam goes missing. Ed can’t understand why his brother may have been taken or may have run away, but he is determined to get him back. As slightly sinister characters begin to make themselves known, Ed becomes more and more desperate to find out what has happened to his younger brother. The kindness of a new neighbour and her father gives Ed the confidence to believe he can make a difference, and she also allows him to reflect on why he might tell tales.

It’s inclusion in the Empathy Lab collection for 2023 is multi-faceted. It’s impossible to read this book without empathising with the heart-wrenching pain that must be felt by families when someone, and particularly a child, goes missing. However, the book is also an exploration of poverty in the UK. Sam and Ed’s dad has gone to prison, and they live with their mother in a small house where they can’t afford the bills and use the local food bank for weekly supplies. It feels to me that many young people reading this book may – sadly – be able to relate to Ed’s situation. But even for those readers who have not been in this position, Kim Slater writes in a non-patronising way that enables others to relate and empathise with families who are experiencing very ‘real’ poverty.

I would recommend this book to KS3. Although some younger readers might like the concept, I think the themes are heavy. The main thread of a missing child is sinister and may be upsetting for primary-aged pupils. Alongside this are issues such as having a parent in prison, poverty, bullying and an adult speaking abusively to children. There is also the inclusion of words such as ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’, which some teachers or parents may have strong feelings about. For KS3 pupils, it is pacey, gripping and is unlike any book I have read: a worthy inclusion for classrooms and libraries.

Read for Empathy Collection 2023

This collection is available from our bookselling partner Best Books for Schools