One Great Lie: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“She will imagine a ghost library of all the other books that aren’t there, and will never be there. All the voices and stories of women behind one kind of wall or another. Voices and stories stolen by thieves.”

One Great Lie by Deb CalettiWinning a scholarship to a writing workshop should be a dream come true for Charlotte Hodges. The workshop is led by Luca Bruni, Charlotte’s favorite author of all time at his private villa in Venice.

Being in Venice also gives Charlotte the chance she’s longed for to look into her ancestor Isabella Di Angelo. For generations, Charlotte’s family has held onto the knowledge that Isabella wrote a very famous poem that’s taught in just about every school now. A poem that’s always been attributed to a man. Without concrete proof, the true authorship is more family lore than fact. Charlotte hopes this summer she can change that.

Arriving in Venice, Charlotte finds the city more picturesque than she could imagine. But the villa is also more secluded–isolated, really. Bruni is even more charismatic in person. More brilliant. But he’s also much more erratic and, as Charlotte and the other young women on the retreat begin to realize, much more unsettling.

With help from an Italian grad student named Dante, Charlotte begins to uncover the truth about Isabella and the stolen poem. But as some secrets are revealed, Charlotte will have to decide if she wants to speak out about others about Bruni in One Great Lie (2021) by Deb Caletti.

Find it on Bookshop.

One Great Lie is written in close third person following Charlotte’s perspective. Charlotte is white as are most characters although there is some diversity among the other students at the retreat. Each chapter in the book is prefaced with a brief epigraph detailing a different female writer from the Renaissance and the reasons why her works are not as well known as they should be or, in many cases, as they could be.

From the beginning the prose is so charged–the foreshadowing so deliberately ominous–that are immediately drawn in waiting for the ground to fall out from under Charlotte; knowing that it’s only a matter of time before a writing retreat that seems too good to be true is proven to be just that.

Charlotte’s work dismantling her admiration for Luca Bruni after witnessing his predatory behavior firsthand connects well to Charlotte’s efforts to prove Isabella’s authorship of a poem previously attributed (and stolen by) a prominent male Renaissance poet. Themes of feminism play out in both plot threads as Charlotte sees firsthand the damage Bruni has wraught while researching the ways her ancestor Isabella’s poem was stolen.

A sweet romance with Dante and Charlotte’s growing love for Venice tempers the otherwise tense narrative.

One Great Lie is a tautly paced novel filled with evocative settings and suspense as Charlotte unearths the truth and tries to right an historical wrong.

Possible Pairings: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Da Vinci’s Tiger by L. M. Elliott, You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories by Janet Gurtler, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say: A Review

“It takes such a brief time to destroy someone’s life and forget that you ever did it. But rebuilding a life—that’s different. That takes forever.”

cover art for If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila SalesWhat happens when the worst thing you ever said is the only thing people know about you?

Winter Halperin has always been good with words—something that served her well as a National Spelling Bee champion a few years ago.

Now, after thoughtlessly sharing one insensitive comment online, words (and the entirety of the internet) have turned against Winter.She is stripped of her Spelling Bee title, condemned by strangers, and loses her college acceptance.

Winter always thought she was a good person. She still does. But mounting evidence online suggests otherwise. So does the mounting panic Winter feels every time she looks herself up online. Because how can she stop looking when some new horror could be added at any moment?

As she grapples with the aftermath of The Incident Winter is forced to confront hard truths about her own bigotry and its role in what happened as well as the nature of public shaming in the internet age in If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say (2018) by Leila Sales.

Find it on Bookshop.

Sales’ latest standalone novel is a timely, sometimes brutal contemporary novel. Winter is a white girl from a fairly well off family. Her comment–meant, she claims, as a fact-based joke on historical Bee winners–suggests that the latest winner of the National Spelling Bee (a twelve-year-old African American girl) can’t spell and is a surprising winner.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say starts with Winter posting that comment before bed and waking up to a nightmare of notifications, hateful messages, and other bad publicity as awareness of her comment grows and grows.

Although the novel is written in the first person Sales is careful to neither condone nor condemn Winter’s actions throughout. It’s up to readers to decide what punishment (or forgiveness) Winter may or may not deserve. When Winter develops crippling anxiety and panic attacks surrounding her online presence and what people are saying about her she enters a program to try and make amends for her actions and also to cope with the very public and very painful online shaming.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say is very plot driven without being high action. The focus of the story is squarely on what Winter did and the aftermath. The contrast between Winter confronting her own internalized bigotry/racism while also being subjected to such intense online shaming is incredibly powerful and thought provoking.

Winter is not always a likable character. It’s easy to feel bad for her as she faces death threats, of course. But it’s also hard to understand her thoughtlessness or how she is more focused on how many likes her joke might receive than on how hurtful it could be. In other words, Winter is a lot like many people who are active on social media.

Winter’s character arc balances dealing with the fallout both internally as she confronts her own biases/bigotry that she hasn’t grappled with before with the very public shaming. Does Winter learn anything from The Incident? Maybe, probably. Is it enough? Readers will have to judge that on their own.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say is a timely novel that will start a lot of hard but necessary conversations.

Possible Pairings: Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World by Ana Homayoun, Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson, American Street by Ibi Zoboi