By Tara Hebbar
Lie Tree, a book that follows 14 year old Faith Sunderly as her family moves to the male dominated Victorian Island, Vane. When her father is discovered dead under suspicious circumstances, Faith uses her femininity and disadvantages in her favour to keep secrets, that if uncovered could lead to disastrous circumstances. When I first read the blurb of the book, it didn’t strike me as an orthodox mystery novel, but as I sat captivated by each page, this book was so much more than a mystery. It holds several not so subtle messages regarding women in the field of science and the gender in general is made to hide their true wits.
Vane is an excavation site, dominated by male natural science who all share the belief that women have no place in the field of natural science due to their “ignorance and small brain size.” “Large people tend to have large heads. Men are no cleverer than we are, Miss Sunderly. Just taller.” Faith always wanted to tear apart from that stereotype, and had a hunger for knowledge that was discouraged by her family members. “There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.” Faith’s mother was severely mistreated by both her husband and brother, who considered her only expertise in raising children and maintaining the household. As the book proceeds, we indeed see otherwise, as she rescues her family from dire situations and proves her quick wittedness more than once. On the island, there were several women, who all shared the same intelligence but were all forced to hide it, as not to anger their husbands. “Here in the drawing room, each lady quietly relaxed and became more real, expanding into the space left by the men. Without visibly changing, they unfolded, like flowers, or knives.”
Now, we see our world much changed, a world where women actually can be considered as smart and the other gender. Earlier, anything remotely intellectual was considered the domain and territory of men. Faith had always had this scientific curiosity and talent, but this was never allowed to grow and be nurtured. As the novel begins near it’s ending, Faith proves herself to be smarter than most natural scientists as she takes on the most dangerous of them all and earns the respect of all the townspeople. “She felt utterly crushed and betrayed. Science had betrayed her. She had always believed deep down that science would not judge her, even if people did. Her father’s books had opened to her touch easily enough. His journals had not flinched from her all too female gaze. But it seemed that science had weighed her, labelled her and found her wanting. Science had decreed that she could not be clever… and that if by some miracle she was clever, it meant that there was something terribly wrong with her.” She is the paragon of a girl who is undermined but unafraid. Her sudden realisation of her place can resonate with us all, science the one subject she thought belonged to everyone, regardless of their gender suddenly wasn;t neutral. This is what happens to so many women when they venture out, and suddenly are shunned away from something that belongs to them equally. Hence, this book is a great read for all those, who need that extra affirmation that they can do whatever they please, and the other gender cannot stop them.
This book took me through a brilliantly remarkable journey and gave me the sad realization that though the battle is being fought, we still haven’t reached that level of equilibrium between the genders. In so many fields, women aren’t given their due credit or aren’t allowed to do what they have a passion for. And those who have broken these barriers successfully, haven’t gotten it easy in the least. Men dominate fields in which women would prosper equally well. We as a gender cannot take it quietly, we must all follow our passion and hearts no matter who stops us, for we all like Faith can outsmart anyone, no matter what anyone does or says.