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Himanjali Sankar’s new novel, The Lies We Tell, is narrated by 17-year-old Irfan Ahmed, whose life is thrown upside down when his girlfriend Uma breaks up with him. Worse still, his childhood sweetheart promptly goes on to date his best friend Rishi, souring a bond of many years. If the premise of the story seems familiar, Sankar layers it with plot points that keep us hooked till the end with their precipitous twists and turns.

Irfan is a sensitive boy, grappling with the departure of his beloved older sister, Sanya, after her fallout with their parents over her relationship with her boyfriend, Rohit. Sankar doesn’t reveal the precise reason behind their disapproval—or at least Irfan doesn’t get into the details—but we can guess. Irfan probably knows it too, since he keeps his own affair with Uma a secret from his hawk-eyed parents. In drips and drabs, he also reveals the sinister undercurrents in the lives of his friends. We get a glimpse into Ana’s world, whose parents are bitterly divorced, and Rishi’s, whose mother is a victim of domestic violence. Sankar intersperses Irfan’s internal monologue with crisp WhatsApp chats among the teenagers, mapping their inner turmoil through slips and suggestions.

In his attempt to get over the twin blows from two of his closest allies, Uma and Rishi, Irfan is led to confessing his troubles to his absent sister on email. While Sanya gives him courage and comfort, her advice is not always life-affirming. Sankar’s portrayal of Irfan, from a gentle soul to a vengeful victim, is affecting, even though we can fairly guess the surprises she has in store at the end. From its bold exploration of teenage sexuality to the depiction of mental health issues, The Lies We Tell remains finely attuned to the bitter truths we must live with.

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