‘The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth. The islands just visible through the mist looked like teeth, Faith decided. Not fine, clean Dover teeth, but jaded, broken teeth, jutting crookedly amid the wash of the choppy grey sea. The mailboat chugged its dogged way through the waves, greasing the sky with smoke.’

When Faith’s father is found dead under mysterious circumstances, her curiosity gets the better of her and she begins searching through his belongings for clues. In his papers she discovers the existence of a strange tree, a tree that only bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. Faith, realising that the tree might hold the clue to her father’s death, starts to spread untruths far and wide. The bigger the lie, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.

I was slightly dubious about this book, seeing that it is, technically, a children’s book. But after it won Costa Book of the Year for 2015 (only the second time a children’s book has done so after Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass in 2001), I decided to give it a go. I did, after all, love the Costa Book of the Year for 2013, The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. I can now say that I trust these awards wholeheartedly, because I absolutely fell in love with The Lie Tree.

Where do I even start? I’m still in shock. I can imagine children, teenagers, adults and pensioners all reading this book and loving it. The only reason this is listed as a children’s novel is because the protagonist is 14 years old. The language is anything but childish. Hardinge is a formidable writer, crafting beautiful sentences and sharp, memorable images that will continue to tug at your thoughts long after you close the book. Part historical fiction, part fantasy, this is the kind of story that you will finish reading and, for a while afterwards, anything you read will seem bland by comparison.

You read it quickly because you’re desperate to know what’s going to happen next, but the startling beauty of Hardinge’s writing will make you stop and catch your breath and want to read the same sentences over and over again. The story is free from the clichés usually expected from children’s/YA novels; you definitely won’t find any dystopian governments or love triangles here. Hardinge has created something wonderfully inventive and entirely immersive.

Faith, the young protagonist, is the beating heart of this novel. She is a truly impressive character, flawed but realistic, relatable and strong-willed. She does bad things but she is always empathetic. She is sharply intelligent, confined by the expectations of her Victorian environment, but refuses to pretend to be the quiet and empty-headed girl she is expected to be. Constantly told by both the men and the women in her life that women cannot be as clever as men, Faith manages to prove to them just how utterly untrue that is. She is a character that girls should be proud to look up to.

The plot is entirely unique. The tree is a creation of genius, dangerous but enticing, offering untold knowledge at a formidable price. This story is a dark fairytale, complete with flashes of humour, and from the first page to the last it is entertaining and completely absorbing. Covering themes from evolution to feminism, both children and adults will be challenged by the ideas presented in the story. Had I had the time, I would have gladly read it in one sitting.

The Lie Tree is a book that you will finish with a smile on your face – before immediately turning back to the first page to read it again.

This is one of those books that I will never stop shoving in people’s faces, demanding that they read it. If you don’t, you are definitely missing out.

The Lie Tree is published by Macmillan.