If the Witness Lied
Caroline B. Cooney

Random House Children's Books
Hardcover/224 pages
ISBN: 9780385734486
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". . . a timely and prophetic look at where the cult of reality TV is leading. . ."

Riveting forecast of the power of television.

Aunt Cheryl wants her piece of fame and fortune on television and the house and she is determined to use Madison, Smithy, Jack and Tris to get it. After all, why shouldn’t the rest of the world know how a three-year-old monster lives?

After their parents’ deaths, Jack, Madison and Smithy chose different paths. Madison went to live with her godparents. Smithy used her computer to enroll in boarding school. Jack stayed behind to protect Tris because he didn’t see Tris as a monster or a murderer. Tris is his little brother and Jack will protect him against the world and against Aunt Cheryl.

The media sharks are closing in, circling and readying their cameras to expose Tris’s murders to the world. Tris's birth killed his mother. Tris got out of his car seat, released the parking brake on his father’s Jeep, and sent it rolling down the steep driveway, killing his father at the age of two. Whoever loves Tris dies. Aunt Cheryl knows; she was there when Tris killed his father.

Aunt Cheryl’s fame will soon be assured unless Madison, Jack and Smithy can protect Tris.

Casting a child as a monster is a risky choice, but one that Caroline B. Cooney takes with If the Witness Lied. Cooney contrasts public obsession with reality television with the needs and hopes of a family. A mother diagnosed with liver cancer in the first months of her pregnancy chooses her unborn child’s life over the chemotherapy that could save her life, bringing the public screaming to her door demanding she abort the child and save herself and protect her living children. But to add one murder to another and letting the blame fall on a two-year-old for an accident that deprives a family of their father seems a bit over the top.

Cooney allows each of Tris’s siblings work out their personal demons until they conclude that Jack, the brother who stayed to protect his baby brother, was right all along to give up everything for the family – or what remained of it. Jack is the candle in the window.

Tris is a precocious and rambunctious toddler and Jack a 15-year-old boy forced to fill an adult’s role although he just wants to be a kid. Madison, the oldest, a senior in high school, hides from the truth and runs away, as does Smithy, a computer savvy 14-year-old, who has spent the past year trying to find a family to welcome here and into which she fits.

Through these children’s eyes, Cooney plumbs the depths of grief and denial with one simple overriding theme – the need for family. If the Witness Lied is also an indictment of the corrupting power of the media to subvert and undermine truth while mesmerizing the public with shock and awe in the greedy scramble for fleeting television fame.

If the Witness Lied is a timely and prophetic look at where the cult of reality TV is leading, a paean to the power of love and belief that creates and maintains the nuclear family.

I found the Fountain children’s story difficult to put down and was completely caught up in their revelations and struggles. When If the Witness Lied sped to its surprising, fitting and eminently satisfying end, I cheered.


Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell