Book Review: Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary

Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary (Casperian Books; 162 pages; $13.50).

                In her debut Black Crow White Lie, a semifinalist for the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Candi Sary proves she is a talented new literary voice.  Her coming-of-agetale explores adolescence and identity.  With authentic prose and a compelling plot, Black Crow White Lie is engaging, entertaining, and highly readable.

Twelve-year-old Carson Calley lives in Hollywood motels with his unstable, alcoholic mother and roams the streets.  The two have a close bond, despite her frequent inebriation.  She tells him stories of their past lives.

“We were Indians—California Indians.  This pale skin,” Sary writes, “was once native brown.  And these legs of yours were once big and strong so that you could run after deer and shoot them with your arrows, and then bring the meat back to me.”

From a very young age, his mother told him he was destined for greatness, just as he was in his previous life.  “You were the treasure of our tribe…You were destined to be the great medicine man, the great healer who would take away all the pain and disease and suffering of our people.”  In that life, though, his destiny was brutally cut short when he was killed.

After thousands of years, Carson’s mother explains, the two spirits are reunited as mother and son.  His mother is convinced that Carson has a purpose.  “You have finally come back to fulfill your destiny.  Carson…you are the great healer of our time.”

Carson does have healing powers.  When his mother is sick, he lays his hands on her and feels “tiny stars gather” in his hands.  After a few minutes, she is well again.  Carson does seem to have a very rare gift.  Yet, Carson cannot cure his own loneliness.

With his mother out late with her married lover, Carson wanders around Hollywood.  Hollywood is the perfect setting for Black Crow White Lie.  In this setting, Sary is able to people her tale with some intriguing and unique characters, people you might not find if this story had been set elsewhere.  Looking for friendship, Carson stumbles into a head shop, where he meets its owner: an albino named Casper (no, that’s not his real name).  Casper is deaf in one ear.  After Carson heals Casper, the head shop owner talks the boy into practicing in a room in the back of the store.  He accepts.  Word spreads, and long lines wait outside to see the “Boy Healer.”

Carson also meets Faris, a tattoo artist.  Faris becomes a father figure for Carson, whose father is buried in Washington, D.C. in the “cemetery of heroes.”  It is Faris who gives Carson his first tattoo, a black crow, symbolizing a story about his deceased father.

With his mother in and out, Carson relies mostly on himself.  A huge weight is on his young shoulders.  Add the heartaches of first love to the mix, and it is easy to understand the fear and anger Carson sometimes feels.

Carson thinks he knows just who he is: a son, a friend, a caregiver, and a healer.  Yet a series of stunning revelations makes Carson question who he is and what he can do.  He undergoes a crisis of identity at such a tender age.  Can he really heal the sick?  Is he a fraud?  Has his mother been lying to him all these years?

Sary handles this all with tenderness and ease.  Carson is her most well-developed character, and he drives the story.  Yet Sary’s plot is deft and satisfying.  Her setting is apropos for her story.  I can’t wait to see more of Sary’s work.  Black Crow White Lie is an indication of a highly skilled storyteller with a bright future ahead of her.

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