This Story Is a Lie
Publisher: Soho Teen
ISBN 10: 1641290323
ISBN 13: 978-1641290326
ISBN 10: 1616959118
ISBN 13: 978-1616959111
A YA thriller described as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time meets John le Carré, about a teen math prodigy with an extreme anxiety disorder who finds himself caught in a web of lies and conspiracies after an assassination attempt on his mother.
Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman is a math genius. He also suffers from devastating panic attacks. Pete gets through each day with the help of his mother—a famous scientist—and his beloved twin sister, Bel.
But when his mom is nearly assassinated in front of his eyes and Bel disappears, Pete finds himself on the run. Dragged into a world where state and family secrets intertwine, Pete must use his extraordinary analytical skills to find his missing sister and track down the people who attacked his mother. But his greatest battle will be with the enemy inside: the constant terror that threatens to overwhelm him.
Weaving between Pete’s past and present, This Story Is a Lie is a testimony from a protagonist who is brilliant, broken and trying to be brave.
Praise for This Story Is a Lie
"Revelatory about mental health, ingeniously constructed and a thrilling ride . . ."
—The Sunday Times
“In this dark and twisted thriller, nothing is what it seems; but Pollock’s greatest triumph is the portrait of a psyche at war with itself.”
“At times dark and gory and illustrated with strong language, Pollock's paranoid world has real substance thanks to his skillful development of the characters.”
—The Irish Times
“Fans of the Bourne series, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time and all stories where everything is not as it seems will lap it up.”
—The Scottish Herald
"Gripping, dazzling, and pulse-pounding, Pollock’s YA debut is a thrill from the first page to the last . . . The final twist is well disguised and truly revelatory."
—School Library Journal, Starred Review
"[A] sophisticated, dark novel . . . Readers who thrill to the combination of mathematics and psychological suspense will be utterly enthralled."
—Booklist, Starred Review
"Unrelenting twists and turns . . . Even the last page will keep readers wondering if there's truth to the title."
"This shape-shifter of a novel explores the tragic cost of family secrets and lies . . . a fascinating premise."
"This Story Is a Lie is easily one of the greatest page-turners I’ve read this year . . . Intensely gripping because of its clever plot and memorable characters."
—Washington Independent Review of Books
"Tom Pollock displays a graceful mastery of both words and numbers in this brainy, unpredictable, and truly original thriller."
—Samantha Shannon, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Season series
"Dazzling. It's as though Escher and Schrödinger had collaborated on a thriller."
—M.R. Carey, bestselling author of The Girl With All the Gifts
"Unreliable. Unputdownable. Deeply empathetic. This Story Is a Lie is a magnificent rollercoaster of a book."
—Marieke Nijkamp, New York Times bestselling author of This Is Where It Ends
"Notable for its hi-octane drama but also its thoughtfulness in the story’s quieter moments . . . a tremendous read from start to finish."
"This Story Is a Lie is a terrific YA thriller. It’s enjoyable to read, the math underpinning provides solid food for thought without being too daunting for readers who may lack confidence with the subject, and Peter Blankman’s blurred perception of what’s happening to him intrigues us from the first page to the very last."
—New York Journal of Books
"Readers won’t soon forget this very smart,thoroughly original science fiction action-adventure."
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"An exceptional and deftly crafted thriller of a read from beginning to end, This Story Is A Lie showcases author Tom Pollock's genuine flair for character and narrative driven storytelling."
—The Midwest Book Review
"Incredible, my mind is blown."
—Katherine Webber, author of The Heartbeats of Wing Jones
"A dazzling, dizzying rollercoaster of a novel, about memory and family and other things you can't completely trust. It will twist your brain in the best possible way."
—Will Hill, author of the Department 19 series
"Exceptional, funny, bleak and emotionally brutal and had me permanently on the edge of my seat."
—Jack Grimwood, author of Moskva
"Taut, suspenseful and compelling . . . A very self-assured and breathtaking debut."
—Worth Reading? Worth Sharing! blog
Praise for Tom Pollock’s previous work
“Vivid, inventive and truly weird.”
“Gorgeously written and brimming with bizarre urban creatures, this darkly imagined and sometimes painful tale should delight fans of Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and Holly Black.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
About the Author
Tom Pollock, described as “a powerful new imagination” by The Guardian, is the author of four novels and an ambassador for Talklife—the peer support network for youth mental health where he blogs about his experiences with depression, anxiety and bulimia (blog.talklife.co). Inspired by those experiences, This Story Is a Lie is his first thriller for young adults. He lives and works in London, and can be found on Twitter @tomhpollock.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Mum finds me in the larder. I crouch in the corner, flinching from the sudden light in the doorway. My mouth is full of blood and shards of porcelain.
I want to spit, but that’ll show her the mess the splinters of the saltshaker have made of my gums. Jags of it are still digging in under my tongue and stabbing into my soft palate, but I can’t swallow in case they stick in my throat. The salt rages in the cuts on my tongue. I try to smile at Mum while moving as few of the muscles in my face as possible. A drop of spit seeps through my lips and streaks red down my chin.
Mum exhales once, gathering herself, then bustles in through the doorway. She slaps a handful of paper towels over my mouth.
“Spit,” she orders. I do. We look at the wadding in her palm. It’s like a tiny battlefield, blood and bits of china bone—as if I’ve choked up the remnants of the fight that just took place in my head.
She pokes at the stuff with a finger. “What happened to counting?” she asks. I shrug. She tuts and sighs.
“Open,” she tells me. I hesitate, then tilt my head back and gape.
“Aaaah. Oo I eed illings?”
She laughs, and I relax a little at the sound. Her hands, warm and confident, move my jaw to catch the light. Her laughter fades. “Oh, Petey,” she murmurs. “Look what you did to yourself.”
“I’ve seen worse. You won’t be heading to hospital, but still . . .”
She reaches into the pocket of her dressing gown for a pair of flimsy surgical gloves and pulls them on. Surgical gloves, I think queasily, in her dressing gown. At four in the morning. Wow, am I predictable.
She reaches into my mouth.
I give her hand a squeeze.
“Three, two, one, and here we go.” With a series of wince-inducing tugs, she pulls the remaining bits of china from my gums and drops them tinkling onto the larder floor. The base of the saltshaker is still gripped in my right hand. Its broken top rises in white crenelated jags above my fingers, a mirror to the teeth that crushed it.
I can still feel it giving way. The panic like a ratchet in my jaw, making it clench tighter and tighter around the porcelain, until the instant where I knew I’d pushed it too far and shrapnel exploded in my mouth.
When she’s done, Mum pulls the gloves off, balls them, and sticks them on one of the empty shelves. She pulls a small pen and a black notebook from her other dressing gown pocket. I eye the thing resentfully, even though I know it’s only her way—she’s a scientist.
“Okay,” she says. “Tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
She gives me Look No. 4. If you have parents, then you’ll know No. 4, the one that says, At present, Sunshine, the shit you’re in is only at ankle level, but push me any further, and you’re going to need scuba gear.
“This stuff may be inside your head, Peter William Blankman, but I’m going to have it out in the open,” she says, palming the pen and picking up a tin opener from a shelf. “Even if I have to come and get it with this.”
I snort and the shadow of the attack recedes a little further.
“I had an attack,” I admit.
“I gathered. We talked about counting as a way to get you through it.”
“I tried that.”
I look at the mess in my hand. “I was unsuccessful.”
Another Look, longer and sterner, edging into No. 5, Ve have vays of making you talk, Herr Blankman, but all she says is, “Unsuccessful how?”
I probe the raw places under my lips with my tongue and wince.
“I ran out of numbers,” I say.
Look No. 5 is replaced by outright disbelief.
“You ran out of numbers.”
“Peter, you’re one of the best mathematicians your age in London, maybe the country.”
“I don’t know about the country.” I do know about the country. If you don’t think I check the rankings, you’re out of your mind. “But—”
“You of all people ought to know that you can’t run out of numbers. Just keep adding one, and presto! Another number appears. Like magic.”
“I know, but—”
“Only, it’s not magic,” she says acidly. “Only maths.”
She folds her arms. “If you managed to exhaust the limitless resource of positive integers, Peter, just think what you’re doing to my patience.”
Silence. I glance at the larder door and consider making a run for it.
“Petey,” Mum says, and all the humour’s gone from her voice. The shadows under her eyes are deep, and all of a sudden, I’m sharply aware of how big a deal today’s going to be for her, and how every second we do this gnaws away a little more of her sleep.
“Why are you eating crockery? Talk to me.”
I blow out my cheeks. “Okay . . .”
It was a tactical error, really, a screwup. I saw the attack coming a mile off; I should have been more prepared.
It was 3:29 in the morning and I was still awake. My eyes felt like pebbles in my skull, and the ceiling seemed to flex and warp before them like a cream-painted ocean.
Big day coming up, I thought. A big day that was due to start in three hours and thirty-one minutes, so it would’ve been a spectacular idea to close my eyes and get some sleep. Except, I couldn’t, because I knew I had to get up in three hours and thirty-one minutes, and that fact was freaking me out.
Big day coming up, Petey. Huge, massive day, and so very, very public. One false move will ruin it, not just for you, but for the whole family, so you really, really ought to get some shut-eye.
I stared at the ceiling. I stared at the clock. Three hours and twenty-nine minutes. Conditions were perfect.
Peter, this is mission control. We are at DEFCON One. All green lights. You are go, repeat go, to have a screaming shit-fit.
It started the way it always does: the hollow ache in my stomach that I used to mistake for hunger, but that no food would ever satisfy.
Three hours and fifteen minutes. Three hours and fourteen minutes and fifty-three seconds, fifty-two seconds, fifty-one . . . That was eleven thousand six hundred and ninety seconds. I wouldn’t be ready. Feel that? You feel sick. You can feel that nausea stretching in your stomach, and if you close your eyes, it will only get worse. You’ll be a zombie tomorrow, and you need to be at your best. Because if you’re a millimetre off your game, you’ll have an attack there. Not here at home, where Mum and Bel can cover for you, but out there, in the world, where people can see, people with phones, filming it. And then it’ll be on YouTube, your blood in the digital water. It’ll drift and disseminate everywhere, the stain of it. And everyone will see and judge and know.
I hesitate. Mum’s pen hovers over her notebook.
“Usual physical symptoms?” she enquires.
“Tight chest,” I confirm, ticking them off on my fingers. “Racing pulse. Dizziness.”
“Damp as Lance Armstrong’s jockstrap.”
Look No. 4 returns. “I can do without the colourful similes, Peter.”
“Sorry.” I close my eyes, remembering it. “So, I tried the three lines of defence, just like we talked about . . .”
One: get moving.
I scrambled out of bed and fled for the stairs. Motion is good; blood in the veins, blood in the muscles. It forces breath when breath is hard to come by.
Two: get talking.
I was a pressure cooker and my mouth was a release valve. Through gritted teeth I let the frantic stream of gibberish whirling around my head out into the world. Sometimes hearing the bullshit I’m thinking is enough to convince me it isn’t true.
“You’re going to have the biggest, most epic public meltdown in history. It’ll go viral. Fuck viral, it’ll go pandemic. They’ll film kids reacting to kids reacting to watching you, and get hundreds of millions of hits. You’ll change the lexicon. Meltdown will vanish from the dictionary and be replaced by “Petey,” as in “doing a Petey.” The next time a cheaply constructed uranium power station gets swept up in a tidal wave and the zirconium rods crack and gamma radiation floods out to blight the surrounding city with cancerous death, the nuclear Petey will be on every front page of every news site on the Internet!”
Okay, that sounded a little ridiculous. I started to feel a bit calmer.
“You will—literally—shit yourself in public.”
I stumbled on the bottom step. That, on the other hand, sounded horribly plausible.
I ran into the kitchen and pushed myself up on the corner of the countertop like the world’s clumsiest ballet dancer and cast frantically around the room for something I could use to get a grip. But all I saw were open shelves crammed with cereal and pasta boxes, pine-faced cupboards, the big silver fridge, and my hazy, monstrous reflection. The oven clock’s green digits burned: 3:59 a.m.
Ten thousand, eight hundred, and sixty seconds.
Three: Get counting.
Distract yourself. Break the attack up into countable pieces, little chunks of temporal driftwood. Concentrate on keeping your head above water until you make it to the next one.
“One,” I said. “Two.” But my real, out-loud voice sounded weak and tinny next to the countdown inside my head.
Ten thousand, eight hundred, and forty seconds . . .
“Three . . . four . . .” I managed, but it wasn’t working. A separate part of my brain had taken up the count while my panic continued, unimpeded and undistracted. I needed something else, some trickier puzzle to drag my attention off the hot, churning sensation in my lower abdomen.
“And that,” I tell Mum, “is where I really screwed up.”
“I switched from counting whole numbers to their square roots.”
She stares at me. “How many decimals?” she asks eventually.
“2.828427, 3, 3.162278, 3.316 . . .” I stumbled, syllables like marbles in my mouth, sweat clammy in my hands and between my shoulders. I tried again. “3.316 . . .”
But it was no good; I’d run out of numbers.
I looked around me in desperation, for something, anything else to fill the roaring whirlpool inside me. My eyes prickled and my heart lurched drunkenly behind my ribs. In the dim wash of streetlight, the kitchen seemed to be shrinking, the walls falling in towards one another. For a second I thought I could hear the beams creaking.
Sometimes when it gets really bad, I see and hear things that aren’t really happening. Shit. How had this gotten so far away from me? I swallowed hard and reached for my last-gasp, incase- of-emergency-break-glass, sanity-preservation technique.
Four: get eating.
I threw myself at the fridge and yanked out a Tupperware of last night’s curry. The sticky brown mess was freezing to the touch as I dug my fingers in and started shovelling. I chewed frantically: a hopeless rear-guard action, knowing that I couldn’t feed the hole inside me fast enough, hoping that the sheer weight of the food would push the panic rising out of my stomach back down again.