1.5 star, YA

ARC Review: The Liars Beneath by Heather Van Fleet

After a tragic accident ends her best friend’s life, 17-year-old Becca Thompson succumbs to grief the only way she knows how: by wallowing in it. She’s a fragment of the person she once was-far too broken to enjoy the summer before her senior year. But when Ben McCain, her best friend’s older brother, returns home, Becca must face her new reality head on.

She isn’t interested in Ben’s games, especially since he abandoned his sister during the months leading up to her death. But when he begs for her help in uncovering the truth about what really happened the night of his sister’s death, Becca finds herself agreeing, hoping to clear up rumors swirling in the wake of her best friend’s accident.

An unhinged ex-boyfriend, secret bucket lists, and garage parties in the place Becca calls home soon lead her to the answers she’s so desperate to unveil. But nobody is being honest, not even Ben. And the closer Becca gets to the truth-and to Ben-the more danger seems to surround her.

Clearing her best friend’s name was all she wanted to do, but Becca is quickly realizing that the truth she craves might be uglier than the lies her best friend kept.

**The Liars Beneath comes out January 27, 2022**

Thank you Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

TW: sexual assault/harassment

I’m such a sucker usually for mysterious deaths and a crush on the best friend’s older brother trope but nothing about this worked for me.

In a small farming town in Iowa, our protagonist Becca is struggling hard in the aftermath of her best friend, Rose’s, death. While she does not initially think there was any foul play involved, Rose’s older brother Ben comes barrelling in trying to stir things up in his search for what happened the night of Rose’s death.

This book focuses literally on 2 things and 2 things only: a romance between Becca and Ben, and the mystery of Rose’s demise. Unfortunately, neither were done very well.

Becca has always been around Ben before he left town to go study in college, a rather prestigious athlete trying to escape the chains of this small town and their negligent mother. But before he left, Becca had the BIGGEST crush on him that fizzled into hate upon the smallest miscommunication. So what if he rejected her in a small way when she was 15? It doesn’t then permit the very rude way she interacted with him from then on, only insulting him to his face (or behind his back, for that matter, to Rose). Ben, for his part, played along with this new way of interacting with her, but I very much feel this was all on Becca for starting this completely unnecessary change in their previously cordial relationship.

I don’t dislike enemies to lovers, but this was poorly done in my opinion. I found it super hard for me to believe that she could so easily fall for Ben when there were so many more important issues at hand. I can potentially see that maybe he was holding a candle for her during the years since, but I don’t think this was LOVE by any means. Telling me you “love” each other does not make me feel it anymore than if you did not say it at all.

The mystery is also hardly a mystery in any sense of the word. Rose’s secrets, and there were a number, starts to unearth as Ben and Becca investigate. I saw the “twist” a mile away with the few characters that were actually introduced into the story. I could hardly believe how much was given away in literal conversations between Rose and Becca in the flashback chapters, or in the way certain characters were introduced to us. The only surprising thing in this book was the ending, and that was a bit of a complicated mess.

While I won’t spoil anything about the end, I feel epilogues aren’t meant for wrapping everything up so neatly into a bow. I’m also conflicted because the ending of the previous chapter before the epilogue was a mess, so I suppose it would be better to conclude with a little extra present. Yet, there were almost too many details given that made it feel like nothing was left to understand about these characters. That they would not live on beyond the ending given them. I feel the best characters are the ones that have been written in a way that their lives could still be up to interesting things even after the last page of the book has been flipped.

All this to say, a book with a really unlikable protagonist makes it really hard to get through. Becca also proves to be not the smartest cookie in the jar. She at one point brought her parents’ handgun to a situation she felt may warrant some protection…only to say she did not know how to use it. Like, you’re literally bringing a weapon to a potentially dangerous situation. Do you know how easily someone (aka the dangerous person(s) you’re meeting) could take that weapon from you and then actually know how to use it…on YOU?

So with neither main element working out well for me and a protagonist I couldn’t stomach for long periods of time, I can only hand this book one note of positivity: at least it was a short read to get through.

Overall Recommendation:

The Liars Beneath was supposedly a mystery and an enemies to lover romance, but felt like neither really hit the mark. The protagonist was unlikable and her chemistry with Ben was not the most believable based on their actions and general amount of miscommunication. At most, it could only be a rather large crush on one another instead of intense love – please don’t tell me but show me. The mysterious circumstances surrounding her best friend’s death was very predictable, especially with the amount of information given in the flashback chapters. And with an ending that was both too wrapped up and oddly rushed to create a happily ever after, I just don’t think there’s enough going for this novel to warrant a higher rating or recommendation.

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