In Dana Reinhardt’s second young adult novel, Harmless, three young girls tell a few harmless white lies to keep themselves out of trouble with their parents. This interesting premise allows the author to build a story in which the stakes keep getting higher as the girls dig themselves in deeper with each lie.
Fifteen-year-old freshmen Emma, Anna and Mariah attend a private school in Orsonville, New York. Anna and Emma have been friends for years, and when Anna starts hanging out with Mariah, Emma worries about losing her best friend. Everyone knows about Mariah, the girl with the older boyfriend from public high school. Anna and Emma soon realize that Mariah may be their ticket to popularity, and they agree to hang out with older high school boys to impress their new friend.
In a single defining moment, Anna and Emma lie to their parents and join Mariah in sneaking out with three older boys. Telling the first lie proves to be so easy, they do it again a week later. This time the girls get caught when Emma’s mother attends the movie Emma claimed to be seeing. Rather than come clean, the girls concoct an even greater lie to keep themselves out of trouble but this time they go too far. In trying to take the easy way out, the girls threaten their friendship and shock their entire community. Woven into the story are subplots about the relationship each girl has with her parents and a budding romance between Mariah and Emma’s brother, Silas.
Though Reinhardt’s work is fiction, teen readers will find the situations realistic and believable. Lies, like a house of cards, are stacked one upon another until the whole stack comes crashing down to reveal the ugly truth. Original and provocative, Harmless has an honest ending that doesn’t try to wrap all the loose ends into a pretty package. This novel is sure to be passed from teen to teen. Renee Kirchner is a freelance writer and educator in the Dallas area.