Review: ‘Fake’ by Beck Nicholas

Seventeen-year-old Kath McKenny has a date to the end-of-term party with her since-forever crush. He publicly messaged her to confirm, but there’s been a recent status update: he’s taking the new girl — giggly, pretty, well-developed Lana Elliot — instead.

After being thoroughly humiliated in front of half the school, best friend Chay talks Kath into revenge: a scheme to create the perfect — and very fake — online guy for Lana. Once she falls for him, they’ll show her what it’s like to get brutally dumped.

Everything is going to plan until Kath starts spending more-than-just-friends time with the other new kid in town — Lana’s dreamy older brother, Sebastian. Kath finds herself getting in deep — in love and drowning in guilt, she tries to put an end to her prank, but it’s taken on an unstoppable momentum of its own, with very real consequences.

As her plotting begins to unravel, so do the people Kath thought she knew: Her mother has a secret online life. Her father has a whole new family. Her best friend is barely recognisable. Her boyfriend has a disturbing hidden past.

And her enemy is more familiar than she knew.

I’ve only previous read one book by Beck Nicholas, The Last Days of Us, which came out at the start of last year. Fake pre-dates it by a few years, and was apparently Nicholas’s debut, but the writing is as clean and compelling. It isn’t so heart-wrenching as Last Days, but is still an interesting exploration of teen and family relationships.

I was really able to relate to our main character, Kath; she’s indecisive and comes across as a little shy, but it’s more because she wants to coast under the radar at her school and in the town that her mother and she fled to almost a decade earlier. The reasons why don’t become clear till late in the book, so I won’t reveal spoilers, but it’s clear her father did something to betray the family that landed them in the news. As a result, Kath does not want to be the centre of attention. She’d rather write stories in her head and maybe go to the end-of-year party with her long-time crush.

Her best friend, Chay, is very different. She also comes from a troubled family life (we never see her father, but he’s strict in a way that seems heavy handed and possibly abusive) but her solution is to be loud and proud, dressing and acting in ways that are designed to get attention. Chay is sometimes a hard character to like, because she does pressure Kath into doing things that are against Kath’s nature for her own reasons, but she never actually wants to hurt Kath and stands by her with things get rough.

Sebastian is sweet and mysterious. I found that the nature of the mystery was very well telegraphed, but others might not have the same experience with the story, so I’ll leave it at that! His sister, Lana, is the “mean girl” of the story and pretty easy to hate … but as the story progresses, we get a good look at her and can see why she is behaving the way she is. Personality-wise, she’s very much a combination of Chay and Kath, so it’s fascinating to see how it all goes wrong between them. I found myself feeling a tiny bit sorry for her (and I don’t blame her in the slightest for her eternal loathing of Kath by the end of the book — let’s be real, the friends had it coming).

The other star of this story is Kath’s mother. Maybe it’s because I’m an older reader, but I really emphathised with her struggle with a teen girl who is at times volatile and sarcastic, and her desire to find something new for herself. Love the present parent in young adult fiction.

I am definitely going to track down more of Nicholas’s books; she has a knack with telling in a compelling way a story that has complicated characters. If you like to read young adult — whether you’re a teen or not! — then definitely check out this book.

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