Seventeen-year-old Irfan Ahmed is handsome, easy-going and deeply in love with his girlfriend, Uma. However, when Uma dumps him for his best friend, Rishi, Irfan’s life begins to unravel. Things haven’t been good at home ever since his sister left. And soon, they get worse. Irfan stops playing cricket, gives up music, cuts himself off from all his friends, and withdraws into a world where his only solace comes from writing emails to his sister. But when a photograph of Uma begins to circulate among their classmates, everyone suspects it’s Irfan taking his revenge on his two erstwhile best friends. But is it? Is Irfan really going out of his mind or is there someone else out there playing games with him?


  • A hard-hitting young adult novel, The Lies We Tell peeps into the complex churnings of a teenager’s inner life in urban India today. Told in first-person by the protagonist, Irfan, a part of the story is the “usual” teenage mess of friendships, love interests, family, school and so on. The other is about his chilling descent into a mental health crisis that puts his life at risk.
  • Sankar plots her story dexterously, weaving in such complex issues such as domestic violence, sexuality, suicide and terrorism, all of which contribute to the anxiety and turmoil that millennial teenagers like Irfan have to grapple with every day.
  • There is a build-up of tension, and the author has left enough clues right through the story, giving perceptive readers a chance to figure out for themselves what’s going to happen. Others will be in for a shocking, twisty climax.
  • The use of concise WhatsApp chats to intersperse Irfan’s monologues and to give readers an idea of what the other teenage characters in the book are going through is a good device.
  • Irfan was a refreshing change from the predominantly upper-caste Hindu protagonists we see in Indian YA and children’s literature. However, did a story about a Muslim protagonist automatically have to be about terrorism? Especially since the incident could have so easily been replaced by something else. Even if one concedes that the terrorism angle was the author’s creative choice, the story misses a great chance to reference or attempt to address the exponential rise in Islamophobia in our country.
  • The book is way too short – it needed at least another seventy-five pages to make it a good, meaty read.


The events described in The Lies We Tell, though fictional, underlie a larger problem in our society that we are resistant to talk about – mental health. Awareness is still minimal and children who struggle to cope are shamed and stigmatised. For anyone looking to start a conversation with the teens in their lives, either to learn to ask for help or to empathise with others who might, this book could be the answer.


Author: Himanjali Sankar
Language: English
Page Extent: 144 pages
Price: Rs. 295
ISBN: 978-93-87103-13-9
Publisher: Duckbill, 2019
Subject Category: Fiction/Young Adult/Growing Up/Mental Illness
Age-group: 13+

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