“Tell Me Lies” is a captivating and emotionally charged novel that delves deep into the complexities of toxic relationships, self-discovery, and the journey towards healing and empowerment.
Set against a backdrop of college life and young adulthood, the story follows Lucy Albright and Stephen DeMarco, whose tumultuous and intense relationship is marked by manipulation, secrets, and an addictive yet destructive love. As Lucy navigates the painful aftermath of their relationship and confronts hard truths about herself and Stephen, she embarks on a path of personal growth and resilience.
Book Title: Tell Me Lies: A Novel
Author: Carola Lovering
Date of Reading: September 2023
The book follows Lucy Albright’s relationship with Stephen DeMarco and each chapter follows either Lucy’s or Stephen’s perspective on their relationship.
The chapter opens with Lucy Albright waking up early for a SoulCycle class, illustrating her hectic college student life in New York. She struggles with the aftermath of a night spent drinking with Dane, her current interest, highlighting her chaotic lifestyle and the pressure to keep up appearances.
Stephen DeMarco reflects on the first time he saw Lucy at a party during their junior year of college. He describes Lucy as distinctly beautiful and different from other girls, indicating his strong initial attraction to her.
Lucy narrates an experience of going on a trip to Lake Mead with Pippa, a friend who had started dating Mike Wrigley. The chapter depicts the youthful excitement and uncertainty of college life, as well as Lucy’s initial perplexity and eventual awe at the beauty of Lake Mead.
Stephen discusses his awareness of Lucy’s growing interest in him during their trip to Lake Mead. He perceives her attraction as a subconscious yearning and is intrigued by her naivete and innocence, hinting at his deeper intentions.
In this chapter, Lucy reflects on her past relationships, particularly with a boy named Parker, revealing her insecurities and the pressure she feels to be in a relationship. She admits that she never really felt a deep connection with Parker and suggests that her lingering feelings for another boy, Gabe Petersen, might have been the reason for her lack of interest in Parker.
Stephen’s chapter delves into his dysfunctional relationship with Diana, characterized by a cycle of arguments and sex. He expresses a sense of boredom and dissatisfaction with this repetitive pattern, hinting at his deeper issues with commitment and emotional connection.
Lucy is persuaded by her friend Pippa to attend a party, where she is encouraged to pursue Stephen DeMarco. This chapter highlights Lucy’s apprehension and skepticism about Stephen, as well as her inner conflicts about engaging in new romantic encounters.
Stephen encounters Lucy in the library and tries to engage her in conversation, showcasing his interest in her. He offers Lucy help with her Russian literature class, revealing a manipulative side as he uses his knowledge to gain her trust and build a connection.
In this chapter, Lucy navigates her complex relationship with her mother, CJ, revealing the tension and distance between them. Lucy’s struggle with her mother’s actions and her own identity is highlighted as she tries to reconcile her feelings while dealing with typical college life challenges.
Stephen finds Lucy crying outside a party and seizes the opportunity to connect with her. Their interaction hints at deeper vulnerabilities in both characters, as Stephen tries to comfort Lucy and they share a more personal conversation, revealing their mutual struggles and beginning a deeper connection.
Lucy attends a bridal luncheon for her friend Bree, illustrating the contrast between her own turbulent life and Bree’s seemingly perfect path. The chapter provides insight into Lucy’s internal conflicts, her feelings of inadequacy, and her complicated relationship with her mother, all set against the backdrop of a celebratory event.
Stephen grapples with the complexities of his romantic entanglements, particularly the fallout of being seen with Lucy by one of Diana’s friends. His chapter exposes his manipulative nature and the difficulties he faces in maintaining multiple relationships on a small college campus.
Lucy experiences a night of partying with her friends, including experimenting with cocaine. The chapter provides insight into her growing dependence on Stephen’s approval, particularly his compliments about her body, which fuels her harmful behaviors like weight loss and substance abuse. This chapter also highlights the peer pressure and risky behaviors common in their college environment.
Stephen reflects on his manipulative tendencies and lack of empathy, recalling an incident from his childhood where he felt no remorse for accidentally killing a turtle.
This chapter delves into his mindset, revealing his strategic approach to relationships and his lack of genuine emotional connection. It also exposes his ongoing infidelity and his rationalization of his actions, emphasizing his self-centered and manipulative nature.
Lucy prepares for a dinner date with Stephen, showcasing her excitement and the importance she places on this relationship. Her friends express concerns about Stephen, particularly his past relationships and behaviors, but Lucy dismisses these warnings. The chapter underscores Lucy’s deepening involvement with Stephen, her struggles with body image, and the impact of peer opinions on her choices.
Stephen encounters his ex-girlfriend Diana at a college party, where she expresses her continued love for him and desire to rekindle their relationship. This chapter highlights Stephen’s conflicted feelings between Diana and Lucy, as well as his ongoing manipulations and lack of genuine commitment to either. The interactions with Diana reveal his opportunistic nature and the ease with which he deceives and controls those around him.
Lucy reflects on her past relationship with Parker and her current life, highlighting the complexities of her emotions and relationships. She grapples with feelings of inadequacy and the pressure of societal expectations, particularly in her interactions with her mother, CJ.
Stephen’s chapter is not available in the quoted sections, but based on the progression of the story, it likely continues to explore his character’s complexities, including his ambitions and the challenges he faces in his relationships and personal growth.
Lucy struggles with her body image, highlighting her strict diet and intense exercise regimen. She feels the pressure to conform to certain beauty standards and experiences tension with her friends over her lifestyle choices. This chapter delves into her internal battles and the impact of societal expectations on her self-perception.
Stephen is under pressure preparing for the LSAT and contemplating his future in law school. He juggles his academic ambitions with his relationship with Diana, revealing his stress and the conflicts in his personal life. This chapter provides insight into Stephen’s mindset as he navigates these challenges.
Stephen DeMarco faces a series of rejections from prestigious law schools, largely due to a DUI on his record. Feeling desperate, he lies about deferring law school to seek finance job opportunities, securing a potential position at BR3 Group. This chapter highlights his manipulative nature and frustration with his circumstances.
Lucy Albright is offered a spot in the “Writers on the Riviera” program, recognizing her high academic achievements and unique personal essay. Though excited, she’s conflicted due to her complicated relationship with Stephen. The chapter showcases her struggle to balance personal desires with academic opportunities.
Lucy is at Bree and Evan’s rehearsal dinner, reflecting on her current life and the people around her, including her relationship with Dane. She grapples with her feelings of discontentment and the realization that her life in New York may not be fulfilling her needs. Lucy also reflects on her past experiences with Stephen, revealing a lingering emotional connection despite her current situation.
Stephen deals with the disappointment of being rejected from multiple law schools, including the University of Virginia, due to his past DUI. Frustrated and feeling directionless, he decides to pursue a career in finance instead of law and begins networking to find a job. This chapter showcases Stephen’s determination to succeed despite setbacks and his ability to adapt to new circumstances.
Lucy meets with her advisor, Mr. Levy, and is surprised to learn that she has been accepted into the prestigious Writers on the Riviera program. Despite her academic success, Lucy’s internal struggles and her complicated relationship with Stephen cast a shadow over her achievements. This chapter highlights Lucy’s academic strengths and her conflicting emotions about her personal life.
The summary for chapter 26 is not available in the quoted sections, but it likely continues to follow Stephen’s journey as he navigates his post-graduation plans and personal relationships, further developing his character and the challenges he faces.
Lucy reflects on her feelings for Stephen, who has been absent from her life for a while. She receives a text from Stephen inviting her to his graduation party and asking her to dinner. Despite her friends Helen and Lydia’s advice to play hard to get, Lucy is visibly excited.
Helen and Lydia caution Lucy about her relationship with Stephen, urging her to ensure any future relationship evolves positively. Lucy agrees but can’t hide her excitement about reconnecting with Stephen.
Stephen, feeling a bit lonely and disconnected in New York, reaches out to Lucy. He invites her to his graduation party and suggests they have dinner. Stephen seems to be taking steps towards rekindling his relationship with Lucy, despite his previous neglect and mistreatment.
Lucy prepares for her dinner with Stephen, reflecting on her complicated feelings for him. She encounters CJ, her mother, who expresses skepticism about Stephen. Despite CJ’s disapproval, Lucy is excited about the dinner. Stephen arrives, and they have an awkward encounter with CJ before leaving for their date. Their dynamic has shifted, now being out of the college environment and in the real world.
Stephen takes Lucy on a surprise date, revealing his plan to dine on a boat named “Kiss Me Kate.” He shares personal stories and shows a more tender, affectionate side towards Lucy. The chapter highlights a possible shift in Stephen’s character and his feelings towards Lucy.
Lucy and Stephen enjoy their time on the boat. They share pizza and smoke weed, creating a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Lucy feels blissful and hopeful about her relationship with Stephen. They discuss their lives, with Stephen apologizing for being distant and explaining his new job situation. The chapter ends with Lucy feeling optimistic about their future together, despite previous hardships.
Stephen celebrates his 23rd birthday with his family and introduces his girlfriend, Alice, to them. He reflects on his acceptance to NYU Law School, still feeling the sting of rejections from Ivy League schools due to a DUI. The chapter shows Stephen’s continued internal struggle with his past actions and his complex feelings about his family and future.
Lucy deals with the aftermath of her relationship with Stephen, feeling lost and disconnected. She is scheduled for a psychiatric appointment by her stepmother, CJ, reflecting her deteriorating mental state. Lucy’s internal conflict highlights her struggle to move on from Stephen and her unease with her current life situation.
Lucy accompanies Stephen to his family gathering in Westhampton, where she meets his extended family for the first time. She struggles with her feelings about Stephen and the passing of her dog, Hickory, reflecting on the complexities of her relationship with Stephen. The chapter juxtaposes Lucy’s affection for Stephen with her internal conflicts and unresolved feelings about her past.
Stephen receives a distressing call about his mother being attacked and hospitalized. He wrestles with his conflicting feelings towards his estranged mother and reluctantly visits her in the hospital. This chapter delves into Stephen’s troubled family dynamics, revealing his strained relationship with his mother and the impact of her bipolar disorder on his life.
Stephen is heading to California with his sister Sadie, feeling dissatisfied with his life and relationship with Alice. He plans to reconnect with Lucy, who has been ignoring him, and is consumed with thoughts of her. Stephen uses the trip as a break from his routine life, including his law school stresses.
Lucy, surprised by Stephen’s sudden visit, finds herself conflicted between her current relationship and her unresolved feelings for Stephen. Despite her efforts to maintain distance, she struggles with the strong attraction she still feels towards him. Her chapter ends with mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension about their upcoming interaction at Bear Mountain.
Stephen, still drawn to Lucy, visits her at a condo in Big Bear Village. He feels a mix of desire and conflict, especially given his ongoing relationship with Alice. The chapter illustrates Stephen’s internal struggle and his complicated, unresolved feelings towards Lucy.
Lucy attends Bree’s wedding, feeling a mix of emotions. As she walks down the aisle as a bridesmaid, she sees Stephen in the audience with another woman, who appears to be his fiancée. This revelation shocks Lucy, making her recall her complicated past with Stephen. Despite her turmoil, she manages to maintain her composure for Bree’s sake.
Stephen reflects on his disintegrating relationship with Alice. He feels trapped and yearns for freedom, while Alice remains oblivious to his detachment. Stephen secretly plans his exit from the relationship, feeling a mix of relief and frustration. His inner turmoil is evident as he maneuvers through the facade of normalcy with Alice.
Lucy, excited about her new life in New York, meets Stephen for drinks. He initially charms her, but soon reveals he cannot move out of his shared apartment with Alice until August. This leads to a heated argument, with Lucy accusing Stephen of lying and using her. She storms out, hurt and disillusioned, but Stephen follows and manipulates her into forgiving him.
Stephen breaks up with Alice in a public place, citing his unhappiness. Alice is devastated and confronts him about cheating, which Stephen denies. He feels relief and plans to move back to Long Island, reflecting on his tendency to end relationships abruptly. The chapter ends with Stephen feeling justified in his decision, indifferent to Alice’s pain.
Lucy reflects on Bree’s wedding, experiencing mixed emotions. She encounters Stephen with another woman, presumably his fiancée, which triggers memories of their complex past. Despite her inner turmoil, Lucy maintains her composure, reflecting her growth and resilience.
Stephen, attending the same wedding, grapples with his feelings and the reality of his engagement. He interacts with Lucy, revealing his conflicting emotions and unresolved issues. The chapter highlights Stephen’s internal struggle as he confronts his past and present choices.
Lucy, now more mature and self-aware, navigates through the wedding festivities. She engages in conversations that hint at her past with Stephen, yet she demonstrates a newfound strength and clarity. This chapter showcases Lucy’s emotional journey and her evolution beyond her past relationship with Stephen.
In the epilogue, Lucy, attending Bree’s wedding reception, discovers Stephen’s engagement. She reflects on her past relationship with him, realizing she has moved on and grown stronger. The encounter with Stephen confirms her evolution and newfound perspective on love and relationships. The epilogue concludes with Lucy sharing her experiences with her mother, symbolizing her journey towards healing and self-discovery.
“People always say that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, but you can. I know what girls in Lucy’s position want to hear, and I can provide that.”
“People always say that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, but you can. I know what girls in Lucy’s position want to hear, and I can provide that.”
“It’s funny—when you get what you want, it almost automatically decreases in value.”
“Everyone has that guy, Luce. That one guy you think you’ll never be able to shake—the one who gets under your skin and epically fucks you up for a little while. I know I did.”
“I know. But if he calls you, if he texts you. He will try to contact you. People like Stephen, they don’t change. He will always come back for more. He won’t give it up until he has to.”
“Mrs. Edwards had immaculately laid out printed-paper napkins in a bamboo box on the back of the toilet next to a basket of potpourri—like everything else in the house the arrangement felt forced. What exactly was I doing here, in this bullshit average house in Pennsyl-fucking-vania? I felt displaced and recognized the pang in the base of my stomach, a distaste and longing for the same intangible thing.”
“The twenty-fourth of February, my twenty-third birthday, fell on a drab winter Sunday, and I decided it was the right time to bring Alice home to meet my family. Luke and Sadie would both be there, and of course Kathleen had to come along.”
“When the check appeared on the table, I pulled out my wallet. “Are you sure? We can split it.” It was a half offer, the way she glanced away when she said it. “No way. This is a date.””
“She’d buy $4 pints of locally brewed beer with her social worker’s salary and spend her life merely existing on the perimeter of the financial and cultural world, and that would be enough for her.”
““I was an idiot when I was nineteen.” A waiter whisks away our plates and almost immediately plops down dessert—carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.”
“Stuff like that used to happen throughout my childhood and into my teenage years—events or moments when I’d lack the specific emotional response expected of me.
Time and time again, the empathetic reactions that seemed to be required never came—a lack of genuine grief at my grandmother’s funeral, a lack of remorse when Jenna caught me making out with Mackenzie Mills in my buddy Carl’s backyard, indifference as I watched my mom move out, my siblings sullen and tear-eyed.”
“To say I’m jealous is an understatement.”
“I’ve always been attracted to Diana, even though she isn’t Miss America.”
““Well, English can be dry. This class is brutal. Tolstoy feels like reading the Bible backward.” Her reference was not all that comical, but I laughed anyway.”
“Tell Me Lies” is a compelling and emotionally resonant story. The dual narrative structure effectively captures the tumultuous nature of Lucy and Stephen’s relationship, offering insights into both characters’ perspectives.
However, the book’s portrayal of toxic relationships might be unsettling for some. It’s a poignant reminder of the consequences of our choices and the importance of self-awareness in relationships.
For those interested in exploring similar themes further, reading other contemporary novels focusing on relationships and personal growth is recommended. Authors like Colleen Hoover and John Green offer similar depth and insight into young adult experiences.
The key takeaway from the book is the importance of self-awareness in relationships. It teaches the value of recognizing toxic patterns and the courage needed to break free from them. In personal life, implementing these ideas means being more mindful of relationship dynamics and prioritizing personal well-being.
Reflect on your relationships and identify any patterns that may be harmful to your emotional health. Commit to having an honest conversation with yourself or a trusted friend about these patterns and take steps to address them.