Fremantle Press (2009)
Reviewed by Tehani Wessely (this review was first published in April 2009)
Western Australian publisher Fremantle Press – who brought us Kate McCaffrey’s eloquent young adult novels Destroying Avalon and In Ecstasy, and the excellent science fiction action comedy that is the Hal Spacejock series (by Simon Haynes) – have done it again, this time with a book for a younger audience. Spider Lies is a fantastic little read, with enough to amuse an adult while still being fully accessible and entertaining for a younger reader.
Jen Banyard takes inspiration from a true life experiment by NASA, looking at spiders in space, and twists it just left of centre. Connor is a fan of arachnids, and gets his science class involved in collecting spider colonies for the NASA space project. When the colony goes into space, Connor discovers one spider of the family left behind, so keeps him as a pet. Somehow, Connor also manages to finagle being home alone for the first time ever around the time of the space launch, and this means there’s no one to help when he starts to have strange feelings about being watched, and his elderly neighbour, Millie, begins to see things – enormous bug things…
In space, things aren’t quite what they seem, and one of the colony disappears, to the concern of the project manager at NASA, an interestingly nerdy adult character, Herman Hatch. Hatch’s backstory adds a fascinating dimension to the surface story, and provides the eventual answer to Connor’s dilemma.
As the book goes on, with the help of a strange new friend, Wart, neighbour Millie, and his pet spider Alf, Connor sets forth on an adventure like he’s never imagined. Told from the varying points of view of Connor, Hatch, Millie, and even Hatch’s supervisor, the Commander, Spider Lies is an enjoyable read from the outset, and while the base storyline is fairly light, the book subtly addresses some deeper themes, such as friendship, aging and peer pressure.
With a diverse cast of characters, a healthy helping of tight, focused writing, and a dash of humour, Banyard has produced a splendid story that will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly boys of a certain age. Given that both my 60 year old father and myself both enjoyed it, it’s a great quick read for adults too!