Gennifer Choldenko's Notes from a Liar and Her Dog tells the story of a Ant, who is such a misfit in her family that she's certain the grown-ups she lives with are not her real parents. As the only brunette and the only troublemaker between two blonde sisters who know how to please their parents, she feels close to no one but her Chihuahua mix and her smelly, artistic classmate Harrison. As a result of her alienation, Ant hides her intelligence and good grades, lies indiscriminately, and hides her dog in her jacket pocket whenever she can.
I can't remember ever before reading fiction with such a convincingly frightful set of parents. Ant's mother betrays no patience or compassion for her unhappy child. Instead, she sees her middle daughter as almost an interloper in her otherwise happy, well-behaved family. But the veneer of family happiness is thin: all of them are tense and unsettled, waiting for their father to reject yet another job and uproot them to move to a new city once again.
Just Carol, Ant's art teacher, tries to intervene. But Ant's mother angrily rejects Carol's approaches, and when Ant is finally allowed to join Carol in volunteer work at the zoo, Ant blows her chance not once but twice.
What makes this book compelling is the strong voice of its unhappy narrator, a girl with a loving heart who makes herself as tough as she can on the outside while longing for approval and support on the inside. Despite Ant's propensity for lying, her narrative voice is frank and full of integrity. She's fighting to hold onto her sense of self among people who appear to scorn her.
The book is a masterful portrait of a warped family system, where one child has become the scapegoat for a host of family troubles. Despite the webs of deception and poor judgment Ant weaves around herself, Notes from a Liar and Her Dog suggests that people can change, and even the most painful relationships can become more rewarding with heroic effort on all sides.
This is a great book for a thoughtful kid, or even for a kid who sometimes feels maligned and misunderstood. And who doesn't feel that way sometimes? I highly recommend it for ages 9 to 14, and it might be a great conversation-starter for parents and children to read together.