52 pages 1 hour read

Lamar Giles

Fake ID

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


Originally published in 2014, Fake ID is a mystery/thriller novel written by Lamar Giles and intended for young adults. The narrator and main character is Nick Pearson, a 15-year-old who has just moved to Stepton, Virginia, becoming a Black student in a predominantly white setting. Nick and his family are in the Federal Witness Protection Program (WITSEC). Unintentionally, he finds himself involved in a love triangle and a mysterious murder.

As a Black author, Giles is interested in the way his characters experience being Black while navigating coming of age. He writes on his website, “My books are about Black kids. They may be in strange situations, or have talents you don't expect, but they are Black. […] The characters I always wanted to read” (Lamar Giles, “About” Page. lamargiles.com).

Fake ID received a number of literary recognitions from book associations, a nomination for the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery. It was named the 2014 Junior Library Guild Spring Pick and the 2014 Blue Ribbon Selection from the Center for Children’s Books.

This guide uses the 2014 HarperCollins Amistad paperback version.

Plot Summary

On 15-year-old Nick Pearson’s first day as a Black high school sophomore in predominantly white Stepton, Virginia, he flirts with Latina cheerleader Reya. Later, as Nick goes into the locker room to change, four boys and jump him. The leader of the thugs, Zach, is Reya’s former boyfriend. Reya’s brother, Eli, takes a photo of the boys, ending the attack. Eli asks Nick to join him on the staff of the school newspaper. Eli is investigating a top-secret project called Whispertown that involves a cover-up of serious crime in Stepton. Nick says he will think about it.

Nick and his parents are in WITSEC, the Witness Protection Program, but Stepton is their last opportunity to remain in the program. Nick’s father, James, has broken the law in their previous WITSEC placements. Nick’s parents constantly argue, fueled by James’s busy, unexplained work schedule. When Nick decides to find out what James is doing at night, he tracks his father to City Hall, where James meets another man in a new BMW. After Nick finds a piece of paper his father dropped titled “Whispertown,” he calls Eli and demands to know what Whispertown is about. Eli promises to tell him if Nick with work with him on the student newspaper, to which Nick agrees.

The next week, Eli assigns Nick to cover the Friday night football game. At the game, Nick sees his father having an animated conversation with two men he does not know. On Monday, story in hand, Nick finds Eli dead in the journalism room. Reya insists her brother was murdered, and Nick begins to believe that too. Because of the Whispertown connection, he wonders if his father was involved.

Since school is canceled, Nick and Reya investigate Whispertown. Nick rides his bike to Monitor Park, where he encounters Dustin, a wealthy student who throws a lot of parties. Dustin was Eli’s friend; he is about to share secret information about Eli’s death when an emergency call from Nick’s mother, Donna, causes Nick to break off the conversation and ride home. Sick of James’s absences, she threatens to take Nick and leave. James claims his late nights are spent playing fantasy football and asks Nick to confirm his story. Fearing his mother will be killed if she leaves, Nick lies for his father.

Nick is intercepted by Sheriff Hill, who takes him to the police station to interrogate him. Nick outsmarts the sheriff and angers him. Mayor Rich Burke picks up Nick in his new BMW to the half-built city-center complex. Nick realizes Burke is subtly threatening him and asks what this has to do with Whispertown. Burke takes Nick to school. They encounter Dustin, who is Burke’s son.

At Eli’s funeral, Reya and Nick decide to go together to Dustin’s Saturday night party to get whatever information Dustin has about Eli’s death. At the house, they get into Mayor Burke’s home office, where Nick is surprised by an inebriated girl who asks his help in getting to the pond. It’s a trap: Zach and his minions attack Nick, but Dustin arrives in time to interrupt the assault. Then Dustin reveals that Eli threatened to expose Burke’s embezzlement of government funds and implies that his father may have had Eli killed. Nick and Reya drive to Monitor Park, discuss what Nick learned, and have a romantic encounter.

The next morning, Nick learns that Dustin and two friends, Lorenz and Carrey, were in a car accident. A vehicle forced Dustin, who was driving his father’s BMW, off the road. The two friends are dead; Dustin is in the hospital and is not supposed to have visitors, so Reya and Nick go to the hospital to see Reya’s cousin Pilar, who just had a baby. Once in Pilar’s room, Nick slips out and visits Dustin, who has a broken arm and facial injuries. As they promise to share information, they are interrupted by Mayor Burke, who orders Nick to leave.

Nick calls his godfather, Bricks, a hitman in the mob, to ask for advice. Instead, Nick learns that his mother is reaching out to former friends, asking for help for when she leaves WITSEC.

Nick and Reya decide that Eli would have made a copy of all his data and that it must be in the journalism room. To get a key to the locked room, Reya stages a fight and steals the vice principal’s key ring. Nick sneaks into the room. Hidden behind a ceiling tile, he finds Eli’s flash drive. They learn that Whispertown is a government code word for Stepton, and that WITSEC is paying the town millions to become a hub for rogue witness-protection families. When Nick remotely starts Reya’s care, it explodes, injuring Reya’s mother.

Nick rides his bike to his father’s workplace and confronts him about Whispertown. James confesses that Burke brought them to Stepton to eliminate evidence of Burke’s embezzlement. As Nick rides away in anger, Zach drives Nick off the road. His posse takes Nick to an abandoned worksite, where Zach threatens him with a baseball bat. Nick manages to take the bat from Zach, knocks him to the ground, and cows all four boys, who drive away.

At Dustin’s house, Nick, Dustin, and Reya discuss how to proceed with what they know. Mayor Burke comes home and Dustin meets him in his study. Trying to find the number for the state police on Dustin’s computer, Nick discovers that Dustin is the father of Pilar’s baby. When they hear a crash downstairs, Reya and Nick rush to the mayor’s study, where they find the mayor on the floor moaning and asking for help. Dustin pulls a rifle from the gun cabinet, holding Nick and Reya at bay as he smashes in his father’s head. Dustin explains that he killed Eli. He also intentionally drove off the road to kill Lorenz and Carrey because Lorenz found Eli’s blood-spattered laptop in Dustin’s closet. Nick attacks Dustin and overpowers him, then must take the rifle away from Reya, who wants to shoot Dustin.

Nick returns home to find that his mother has run off. Reya has figured out that Nick is in WITSEC. Since everything he told her about himself is a lie, she wants nothing more to do with him. Nick and his father decide to skim money from the Whispertown accounts, use all their resources to find his mother, and become a family again.

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