I reach the front door and call over to Ren, “I’m going to go. Make sure you lock the door behind me.”
Ren nods and smiles as he tabulates the till amount.
When I’m sure he’s in the thick of his concentration, I unlock and open the store’s door. I check back that Ren’s head is down and, instead of walking out, I tiptoe over to the corner of the store where all of the vintage Lego sets are. Why someone would purchase a Lego set and not open the box and make the structure is beyond me. There’s a space between the Lego stand and some Playmobil stuff where, amazingly, I can squeeze in and hide. I scrunch down and pull my knees in. I remember to turn my phone to silent and shield its glow.
I barely breathe as I watch Ren through two aisles. He writes down some figures then puts all of the money into a cloth bag. He walks over to the door and opens it to peek outside. I see him look from the left, to the right, and around a bit. A look of concern washes over him and I wonder what he sees out there.
After some time, he comes back in, closes and locks the door, turns off all of the lights then feels his way around in the dark until he bangs his shin into his apartment staircase.
Was that Mandarin for the f-word?
I wait a little bit before I get comfortable. It’s going to be a long night and the cement floor will take its toll on me. As I outstretch my legs, an unexpected flash of that night, from almost three years ago, races through my mind.
To distract myself from going there, I grab my phone and am reminded that I have three voicemails. I dial in and wait to be prompted for my password which has always spelled “Ariel”. My mom’s favorite film was The Little Mermaid and it remains one of the few things I can recall enjoying with her. I remember humoring her by watching it the first time, but then the feisty mermaid’s defiance of patriarchy and the sea resonated with me. I became a fan.
The first voicemail is a surprise. The woman whose name I can’t hear advises me that I have a job interview at KFC tomorrow at 3:30 and to call if I can’t make it. I barely remember applying for it. It was months ago. Oh great, that’ll do wonders for my insomnia tonight.
The next message is from Ms. FACS. Her voice sounds even higher on the phone and it annoys me to the bone. She couldn’t be more chipper with her fake concern for my well-being, wondering “if everything is all right.” I hit seven to delete the rest of her same-old crap.
The last voicemail is from Trick. “Hi, Missy. It’s Dad. Where are you?” He pauses as if he’s talking to me. Then, “Look, you’re not in trouble, I just want to talk to you about school. You’re usually home by now. Where are you?” He waits an irritatingly long time before he gives up and hangs up. I delete the message.
After some thought and trying this weird deep-breathing thing Dr. Tandalay once taught me, surprisingly, I fall fast asleep.
Bright lights and a vicious alarm assault my slumber. I jump up and hit my head on a shelf. A Star Wars Millennium Falcon Lego set crashes to the ground, spilling its insides.
Ren runs to the counter to silence the alarm as Treat stands bloodied by shards of the store window that, by the looks of it, he just busted through.
“Where the hell is she?” my father chases Ren and grabs him by the scruff of his neck just as a police car pulls up out front.
“Dad!” I yell. Treat, Ren, and now Valkyrie all whip around to see me. “I’m right here. Ren didn’t know.”
Treat throws Ren back. Valkyrie runs to her dad and comforts him with words I don’t understand.
Two police officers charge in. “Mr. Lin?” one of them calls out.
Ren motions to them that he’s okay. They all turn to look at my father who can barely stand straight. The second officer approaches him. “Tim, what’s going on?” He points at all of the broken glass. “Did you do this?”
Treat looks at me over in the corner. His eyes well with tears. “I didn’t know where she was,” he slurs.
The officer approaches my father and pats him on the back. “This is a tough time of year for you, ain’t it, Timmy?”
Like a switch, Treat rushes at me, yelling, “What the hell is the matter with you?”
The officer grabs him just before his fists hit me. The officer tries to be calming, but Treat rips retro action figures from the shelves and whips them at me. One of them strikes the side of my head and it stings so bad I think I lost an ear. I put a hand to my head then pull it back to study my palm; it’s full of blood.
Ren darts toward my dad, but Valkyrie holds him back. She yells something at him and he settles down.
The police get Treat under control. He’s handcuffed and taken to their cruiser.
I kick at some of the broken glass on the floor and turn to Ren and Valkyrie. My heart hurts with a million sorrys.
Ren says something, clearly shaken.
“Don’t worry, it’s okay,” Valkyrie translates it.
The officer who knew my dad’s name comes back in. “Melissa, we’ve got to take your dad in with us.”
“I understand,” I say.
“Mr. Lin, you’ll need to come down to the station to make statement,” the officer advises.
Ren waves both of his hands as if to surrender. “I’m not coming in.”
“You’ll need to, to press charges,” the officer clarifies.
“Like I said, I’m not coming in,” Ren says as he grabs a broom.
Not all heroes wear capes.
“Well, that’s your prerogative,” the officer states. “Regardless, I’m taking him in for the night to let him… sleep this off. Are you okay to get home, Melissa?”
My eyes plead to Valkyrie. She nods.
“Yeah, I’m good,” I assure the officer.
Eventually, the cruiser peels away as my father shouts inebriated profanities at us through the window.
For most teen girls, their sweet sixteenth birthday is something to look forward to, but not for Missy. The reason is that her last three birthdays have been traumatic. On her thirteenth birthday, her younger brother died, and Missy blames herself. She believes that if only she wasn’t so selfish that day, he would still be alive. And to make matters worse, her mother got arrested as she was opening her presents on her fifteenth birthday. Now birthdays are just a reminder of the trauma she has faced over the past three years. Missy can’t help but wonder what horrible event will occur on this year’s birthday.
With her mother remaining in jail, Missy resides with her alcoholic father, Timmy,—or Trick or Treat, depending on which version of him is present—who is prone to emotional and abusive outbursts when he drinks. Her father does not provide her with the basic human necessities, forcing her to fend for herself. She avoids telling anyone about her home life for fear of losing any more than she already has. In order to avoid thinking of the trauma and to dodge her father’s rages, she volunteers at a local store owned by a quiet man who cares for her as a daughter but doesn’t push her to speak about her life if she does not want to.
In addition to Ren, the store owner, Missy has her therapist, Dr. Tandalay, and the new school custodian, Miss Maalouf, who look out for her. She also meets Luke, a new boy at school who seems to be the only person she feels understands what she is going through. Missy is used to keeping everyone at a distance—she thinks that is what is easiest. But what will it take for her to finally let the people who care for her into the reality of her inner world?
Author Sara de Waard is a Métis author, screenwriter, and freelance social media manager. She is also an elementary school teacher, and her work with youth as an educator has inspired her writing about mental health and the experiences of young people. In addition to being a teacher, de Waard holds a BA in Radio and Television from Ryerson University. She currently resides near her hometown of Port Colborne, Ontario, with her two children. White Lies is her debut novel.
White Lies covers some serious themes, including mental health, trauma, abuse, death, grief, and emotional healing, whilst also managing to deliver doses of humour and sweet moments of romance, all of which are woven together into a well-balanced text. De Waard has created interesting, realistic, and multifaceted characters that readers are likely to root for. Through the first-person narration, the reader is likely to be drawn into Missy’s experience through her musings about her inner world, the half-truths she shares with her therapist, and her sarcastic humour that she uses as a coping mechanism to keep others at a distance. The secondary characters, including Luke, Dr. Tandalay, Miss Maalouf, and Ren, all have their own ways of gently supporting Missy, forming the support system she doesn’t realize she needs. De Waard has done a masterful job of creating well-developed, relatable, imperfect, and likeable characters that help drive the plot forward as Missy moves toward healing.
In addition to bringing her experiences as a teacher to life within her prose, de Waard has also used her experience in the profession to create a 44-page Teacher Manual that is suitable for intermediate to senior grades. The manual includes comprehension, vocabulary, schema, and critical thinking prompts, as well as extension activities that provide opportunities to take the text further by making cross-curricular connections to mathematics, art, drama, music, and health. It also includes culminating task choices and corresponding rubrics. The Teacher Manual can be found on de Waard’s website.
White Lies is a well-balanced text that blends together humour and romance with serious topics that are relatable to readers in the target audience. Filled with unique and interesting characters, a fast-moving plot, and relevant themes, the text is likely to elicit the full range of emotions in readers. This book is likely to become a well-loved addition to any middle or high school classroom or library.
Chasity Findlay is a graduate of the Master of Education program in Language and Literacy at the University of Manitoba and an avid reader of young adult fiction.