Once Upon a Lie is about two strangers who become unlikely friends, only to unintentionally put each other's life in jeopardy. Jaleel Robeson, a gifted, eighteen year-old black man, falsely accused of murdering his father in a small Texas town, is on the run. He assumes a new identity in 1980s Los Angeles as a successful student on his way to college.
Alexandra Baten, a restless sixteen year old while girl, lives in a privileged Toluca Lake family but feels trapped by her parents' values. One weekend, she rides her bike into a run down neighborhood, meeting a young black man selling lemonade. Thus begins a friendship between opposites, at least on the surface, but they learn they have more in common than they imagine.
Told from each character's point of view in alternating chapters, we become involved in a gripping tale of two Americas where discontent and violence always lurk under the surface. When they erupt, no one is safe. Once Upon a Lie is both a family drama and a crime drama, as well as an exploration of interracial love, mother-daughter relationships, and redemption through courage.
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Michael French has bitten off a mouthful in Once Upon a Lie. It would be easy to write a sweeping saga of one race's quest for equality and justice. Mr. French has taken the harder road, and told the simple story. And he has gotten me thinking about this issue more than I have in a long time.
Girl. Boy. White. Black. Two-parent family. Orphan. Rich. Desperately poor. Then there are the adults, who manage to mess up their lives and those of their children.
Alexandra has grown up never knowing want. Her family lives in a 12,000 square foot home. They have a swimming pool. She goes to an exclusive private academy (that's what the rich folks call 'school'). She wants to be a lawyer like her father.
Jaleel (aka Edward) lived in a tired neighborhood in a small Texas town. One night, with little warning, and in front of 13-year old Jaleel, his father shoots his mother in the head and then turns the gun on himself. The local police who came to investigate were actually trying to pin the father's death on young Jaleel. The police were white. Jaleel was black. In any case, since both his parents were dead, he had to go to a juvenile facility. The police continued to interrogate him. He made and executed a plan to escape with the help of a friend. And he does.
Four years into the future, he is living in a foreclosed home (that is, for all intents and purposes, abandoned), providing for himself, and doing a bang-up job in school, both academically and in sports. He has a scholarship to Princeton.
Then Alexandra discovers that her mother has been having an affair with her father's best friend. She talks Jaleel into putting a letter into the couple's mailbox warning the man off her mother (not signed, of course). Not too many days later, the man is found dead. So the police begin to wonder who dropped that note off and how sinister was its intention. And Alexandra's father is the top suspect.
Once Upon a Lie is definitely suspenseful, and more than a few moments are quite shocking. I would hazard a guess that the less you have to worry about in life (and I mean things like food and shelter), the more shocking these incidents will seem.
Different types of inequalities are all around us: white vs. people of color, rich vs. poor, those with higher education vs. those who dropped out of school, male vs. female, religion vs. other religions...the list is endless. The rights and privileges we claim for ourselves, we cannot deny to others unless we would be hypocrites.
I want my children to read this book also. I believe this could open some very important family or homeschool discussions. The story is structurally very well structured. If this book was an ice-skating competition, it would get the Gold Medal. The structure and the story are very well done.
Michael French has bitten off a mouthful in Once Upon a Lie. It would be easy to write a sweeping saga of one race's quest for equality and justice. Mr. French has taken the harder road, and that has made all the difference.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Michael R. French graduated from Stanford University where he was an English major, focusing on creative writing, and studied under Wallace Stegner. He received a Master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He later served in the United States Army before marrying Patricia Goodkind, an educator and entrepreneur, and starting a family. In addition to publishing over twenty titles, including award-winning young adult fiction, adult fiction, biographies ad self-help books, he has written or co-written a half-dozen screenplays, including Intersection, which has won awards in over twenty film festivals. He has also had a long business career in real estate, living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His passions include travel, collecting rare books, and hanging with friends and family. He describes his worst traits as impatience and saying "no" too quickly; his best are curiosity, taking risks, and learning from failure.
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(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via Sage's Blog Tours in exchange for my honest review.)