Book Review: ‘White Lies, Black Dares’ by Joanna Nadin

Author: Joanna Nadin

Originally published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2016

Review by Miriam Atkinson

White Lies, Black Dares is a compelling book for teenagers and young readers. The story follows teenager Asha as she is forced to move back to her old neighbourhood and join the local secondary school. Asha must then carve out her own place within the student hierarchy by entering into a dangerous game of Truth or Dare with the school trouble-makers and queen-bees, Angel and Kelly. Along the way Asha explores her own identity as she struggles to cope with the consequences her actions bring in this coming-of-age novel.

The first thing that struck me when reading the book was how completely realistic it felt. Joanna Nadin has perfectly captured the school setting, the interactions between the teenage girls, the complicated relationship a teenager has at that age with their family, and how the characters (particularly the younger characters) think and feel and speak. As people get older and move into the wider adult world childhood problems can seem unimportant, but White Lies, Black Dares is a fantastic reminder of the heightened yet contained environment secondary school can be. It is a place where confusion, loneliness and triumph can all be experienced in a single day and where every decision, even a simple choice about who to sit with at lunchtime, can feel like life and death if you make the wrong call.  Everything about this book felt completely genuine and very relatable to the point where I could have been reading about real people rather than a group of characters.

What Nadin does so brilliantly is she takes a small concept, such as the game of truth or dare or the idea of lying, and uses it to explore a much greater array of themes and issues that a young person could face growing up. One example this takes is the peer-pressure Asha is placed under by Angel and Kelly as she struggles between trying to fit in and be part of their friendship group while at the same time knowing she should do the right thing and live her life as her family expect her too.

The tension is wonderfully increased through the narrative. The novel shows a fascinating progression of how one small, seeming harmless act can eventually cause big consequences. Asha’s actions and deceptions spiral out until we reach the gripping climax where Asha fights to regain a level of control over her life. This was a highly enjoyable scene as by this point in the novel I had no idea what the characters would do or say next. Yet woven throughout White Lies, Black Dares is the moral message of what can happen with lying, with one lie leading to another and another, until that person is at risk of losing who they used to be.

*This review was originally published in the online magazine Cuckoo Review in March 2016*

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