A thrilling, sexy coming-of-age story exploring toxic love, ruthless ambition, and shocking betrayal, Tell Me Lies is about that one person who still haunts you—the other one. The wrong one. The one you couldn’t let go of. The one you’ll never forget.
Lucy Albright is far from her Long Island upbringing when she arrives on the campus of her small California college, and happy to be hundreds of miles from her mother, whom she’s never forgiven for an act of betrayal in her early teen years. Quickly grasping at her fresh start, Lucy embraces college life and all it has to offer—new friends, wild parties, stimulating classes. And then she meets Stephen DeMarco. Charming. Attractive. Complicated. Devastating.
Confident and cocksure, Stephen sees something in Lucy that no one else has, and she’s quickly seduced by this vision of herself, and the sense of possibility that his attention brings her. Meanwhile, Stephen is determined to forget an incident buried in his past that, if exposed, could ruin him, and his single-minded drive for success extends to winning, and keeping, Lucy’s heart.
Alternating between Lucy’s and Stephen’s voices, Tell Me Lies follows their connection through college and post-college life in New York City. Deep down, Lucy knows she has to acknowledge the truth about Stephen. But before she can free herself from this addicting entanglement, she must confront and heal her relationship with her mother—or risk losing herself in a delusion about what it truly means to love.
With the psychological insight and biting wit of Luckiest Girl Alive, and the yearning ambitions and desires of Sweetbitter, this keenly intelligent and staggeringly resonant novel chronicles the exhilaration and dilemmas of young adulthood, and the difficulty of letting go, even when you know you should.
Put simply, Tell Me Lies is about a boy and girl in a very toxic relationship. But of course, there is so much more to say about it.
This book follows Lucy as she navigates college and post-college life. It is told in dual POVs and dual timelines, but surprisingly (and thankfully) it was not difficult to follow. She has a bit of a fraught relationship with her mother due to something that happened when she was a teenager (Lucy deems it the “Unforgivable Thing”). She leaves her hometown in Long Island to attend a small college in California. This is where she meets Stephen.
Stephen, also from Long Island, is confident, arrogant, and cocksure. He has issues with his mother as well, who suffers from Bipolar I, and his relationship with his father is more one of pity than love. When Stephen sees something he wants, he goes after it and doesn’t stop until he has it. Even if that means hurting people along the way. And soon, that want becomes Lucy.
For me, it didn’t take long to see that Stephen is not a good guy. He is not just manipulative, secretive, and insensitive, there is something seriously wrong with him. But all Lucy sees is a charming, attentive guy who is a bit chubby but who she also has insane chemistry with. And so begins their extremely toxic relationship.
Lovering did a great job weaving these two characters and their lives together. The two timelines were easy to follow and the dual POV was incredibly captivating and enthralling. There were some surprises along the way, but due to knowing both characters’ POVs as a reader, it gives insider knowledge which caused me personally to yell out loud at them many times.
There is a lot of drug use in this book. I don’t know if I’m just naive, but I kept wondering if this portrayal was an accurate one of college life. Do college kids do hard drugs like cocaine this often? If so, that’s crazy and they should definitely stop. I know drinking is prevalent, I did go to college, and maybe I just didn’t surround myself with people who were into drugs, but it was pretty shocking reading the extent of these kids’ casual drug use.
In addition to that, it was difficult to read at times. Being inside both of these characters’ heads wasn’t a picnic and made me extremely uncomfortable at different points of the book. I read a lot of romance and things frequently get steamy and explicit. But honestly, this was explicit in a way that made me uncomfortable to read. Mostly because I knew how Stephen was viewing those interactions vs how Lucy saw them. It is a testament to Lovering’s writing that she made me have such a visceral reaction to her words so many times.
It had a bit of a psychological thriller feel to it, even though I wouldn’t classify it as one necessarily. Not only is Stephen playing with Lucy’s mind, he plays with the reader’s as well.
Also as a side note, for me, there is a clear villain in this book and that is Stephen. You are not supposed to like him. That is one of the whole points of the story in my opinion. Even though her friends tell her many times, Lucy has to figure out on her own that Stephen is a horrible person with serious problems. I don’t want to give anything away but I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to figure it out pretty quickly what he is.
Like I said, this story is about a toxic relationship and those involved are seriously flawed.
Even though I would have liked a bit more comeuppance for a particular character at the end, as it felt a little bit anticlimactic to me, I would still highly recommend the book.
(Because this book is so visceral and in a way graphic, there are some potential trigger points that you may want to be aware of. I’ll put those below.)
I received a free advanced readers copy of this book from Atria Books and a finished hardcover from BookSparks in exchange for an honest review.
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Potential Trigger Points
MEET THE AUTHOR: CAROLA LOVERING
Carola Lovering attended Colorado College, and her work has appeared in W Magazine, National Geographic, Outside, and Yoga Journal, among other publications. Tell Me Lies is her first novel. In addition to writing, Carola teaches yoga at CorePower. She currently lives in Brooklyn.