Warning: Contains Plot Spoilers!
Three Truths and a Lie
By Brent Hartinger
Eighteen-year-old Rob is feeling estranged from his friends: his boyfriend Liam, Liam’s best friend Mia, and her boyfriend Galen. So he suggests a weekend by themselves at a cabin on a remote lake deep in the rainforests of Washington State.
The first night there, they play the party game Three Truths and a Lie where they each demonstrate their various skills at telling lies, and spotting the lies of others. But as the weekend continues, one of the locals begins vandalizing their cabin. Soon the game of cat-and-mouse turns much more serious, with people dying and their only means of escape cut off.
It finally dawns on Rob that it’s not necessarily one of the locals terrorizing them: one of his friends might be doing it and lying about it. But why? And who? They all have their reasons, and it soon becomes clear that in this ancient rainforest, almost no one is telling the whole truth and nothing is exactly what it seems.
Major Themes and Ideas
(1) Reality is malleable; perception is everything.
(2) Psychological terror can be just as upsetting as physical terror (if not more so). What you don’t see, and don’t understand, is often more frightening than what you can see.
(3) A single soul can contain opposing forces — love and hate, light and darkness, sex and death — in conflict with each other. But since these forces exist within us, they can never truly be destroyed.
(4) The most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves.
(1) In what ways is Three Truths and a Lie like other stories that involve teenagers in peril? In what ways is it different?
(2) Who exactly is bullying who in this story? Why do you think people bully each other?
(3) Consider that Rob and Liam are two sides of a single person. At times, they’re “totally in sync,” but at other times, they’re very much at odds. What is the author saying about human nature? What might it mean that Rob sees himself as the less dominate member in his relationship with Liam? What does it mean that Liam refuses to accept that “Rob” doesn’t exist? In the battle between Rob and Liam for domination of their single psyche, who really won?
(4) Is Rob “good”? Is this book about the struggle between good and evil? If not, what’s it’s a struggle over?
(5) Why do people lie to themselves? Can such lies be sustained indefinitely? Have you ever lied to yourself? Do you think you’re lying to yourself right now?
(6) Which character in the book is the most honest? What do you think about that?
(7) At one point, Rob says, “I kept thinking how stupid it was, the whole idea of chopping a forest up into parcels. It was like trying to slice a balloon—impossible. It was all or nothing. Or maybe it was like a person: you couldn’t cut someone up into pieces and expect him to live.” What is Rob really talking about here? Is he right?
(8) What do you think the rainforest represents? The clear-cuts? The constantly dripping water? What about the spiderwebs?
(9) In the middle of a very tense moment, Rob and Liam have sex. How are sex and death related? In what other parts of the book does the author illustrate the symbiotic relationship between sex and death?
(10) Rob is obviously an unreliable narrator. Does that mean we can’t understand him or his story? How does the way he tells this story give us insight into his psyche? When it comes to this unreliable narrator, do you think the author of this book played fair?
(11) Have you read or seen many LGBT characters in horror books or movies before? Why do you think most such characters are heterosexual?
(12) Rob/Liam is gay, but he also turns out to be the “villain” of the story. Does that surprise you? Do you think readers might have reacted differently to such a plot-twist twenty years ago? What does it say about the era in which we live that LGBT characters can now sometimes do very bad things?
Suggested Class Projects
(1) Play the game Three Truths and a Lie, as in the book. Afterwards, consider these questions: What made something sound true? What made something sound like a lie? What are the best ways to determine whether something is true or false?
(2) Study unreliable narrators. Have students write a story in which the main character withholds at least one key piece of information. Discuss the impact of those stories on the reader.