Perhaps a friendship was a fantasy, but sometimes feelings that grab you by surprise. That are the least likely to happen, are the hardest to dismiss. - Alex Baten
Twelve-year-old Jaleel Robeson is on the run after the police in his tiny Texas town try to frame him for the death of his father. A world away, Alexandra “Alex” Baten is growing up amid all the material comforts a wealthy Los Angeles lawyer can provide. One day, a simple cup of lemonade unites their lives, leading to a maze of adultery and murder that shatters Alex’s youthful innocence and Jaleel’s struggle to reshape his life.
While the forces of the law try to unravel the mysterious death―or at least find a scapegoat―the two youths see the trajectories of their lives entwine, unravel, and come together again. Justice, Alex learns, can be a strange and nebulous thing, easily enmeshed in webs of loyalty and betrayal. Justice, Jaleel finds, can be a powerful―but dangerous―rock on which to build a life of honor and courage. As their stories play out over the years in cities far apart, best-selling author Michael French fills the world of Alex and Jaleel with a cast of vivid characters both supporting and threatening their efforts to build a life that “works” amid the expectancies of others and their own conflicting drives.
Once Upon a Lie is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
A graduate of Stanford University with a degree in English and of Northwestern University with a master’s in journalism, Michael French is the author of twenty-four books: adult and young adult fiction, art criticism, biographies, adaptations, and gender studies. A native of Los Angeles, he also is a successful businessman, an avid high-altitude mountain trekker, a world traveler to developing countries, an activist, and, with his wife, Patricia, a philanthropist raising money for programs aiding teachers in Santa Fe, N.M., public schools, which are some of the most challenged in the country.
***** Book Review of Once Upon a Lie *****
When I began reading Once Upon a Lie, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the synopsis. The story follows the lives of two main characters—Alex, daughter of a successful attorney and his socialite wife, and Jaleel, an intelligent African-American male born to two working class parents. The novel begins in present day, with the voice of an adult Alex apprehensively awaiting a meeting with her mother, and then in the next chapter, takes the reader back to a young Jaleel, and the life he lives in Peartree, Texas with his two parents before their unexpected deaths.
The novel is filled with interesting characters, such as the quirky Cornelius Appleton/Dirick, who kindly offers help to Jaleel (and the many identities he must assume) after he begins life on the run. The majority of the novel is set in the 1980s, which is one of my favorite decades, so there are references to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the life of the affluent in the Los Angeles suburbs mixed in. I found it very hard to have any sympathy for Alex’s parents, who were both entitled in different ways and seemed to have no remorse for the destruction their actions left in their wake.
As I mentioned before, Alex and Jaleel came from very different backgrounds, but were brought together in a random meeting at a lemonade stand that would have a lifelong effect on both of them. Learning how Jaleel’s brushes with the law shaped his persona and gave him a brittle, but wise, edge was one of the more intriguing parts of the book. Fans of writer and activist James Baldwin will appreciate Jaleel’s references to his work, as he becomes a writer in his own right.
Once Upon a Lie is an exploration of the secrets families keep, and the ways those secrets can tear a family apart. It’s also an examination of the country’s justice system—past and present—and how those with influence and money can manipulate that system to their advantage, while those with less means are left with only their word as a defense. These examples include the very different outcomes when both Alex’s father and Jaleel are accused of crimes. By the last half of the book I was on the edge of my seat wondering if justice would truly prevail—and in my opinion, the way the stories are wrapped up will be a great source of discussion for book clubs.
Paperback: 388 pages
Publisher: Terra Nova Books (March 15, 2016)
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Want another chance to win a copy of a Once Upon a Lie? Participate in the group blogging event for the novel on July 6. Every blogger who signs up posts about the same thing: “Finding Love in Unimaginable Places,” and bloggers and their followers have the chance to be entered into a drawing to win two copies of the book. Email Renee (email@example.com) to join in the fun!