He rumpled his red hair and adjusted his glasses in an anxious sort of way, and he took a couple of steps back to the kitchen. He let them see the limp: He used that, the same way he used everything. (1.122)
Alan tends to come across as the kind, calm, compassionate Ryves brother—a bit of a contrast to Nick's fiery temperament—but looky here: Alan may not be exactly what he appears to be. He uses the limp. He knows the effect it has on others in making him seem weaker, like less of a threat, easier to approach; perhaps even to be pitied or underestimated. And he uses it. It's a small bit of deception, sure, but it's deception nonetheless.
Nick was tired of this…. and he didn't need these people witnessing what a mess his life was. He hated it that they were from his school: that Jamie had seen him trying to read, and now they were getting an illicit peek into his weird world. (2.64)
Ah yes, the whole worlds collide theory. It's like when your parents try to hang out with you and your friends, or when your significant other comes to watch you play pick-up basketball. It can be weird—and uncomfortable—to combine separate spheres of our lives, and that's what's happening for Nick here. Kaboom—worlds colliding.
Mae's glare intensified, and Nick smiled, feeling pleased and vicious at once. These people shouldn't have come here. School and home should not overlap. Nick was meant to be normal at school, and this was his place, his brother, his home, even his mad mother rocking upstairs. (2.77)
We all have pockets of our lives that we want to keep to ourselves, or at least keep separate from one another. For Nick, it's school and home. School isn't fun for him, and he has trouble reading and he hangs out with the tough crowd to avoid being pegged as a loner. At home, he can be himself—at least until Mae and Jamie show up expecting him to be the Nick Ryves they know from school. But from Nick's point of view, that Nick Ryves isn't Nick at all—that Nick Ryves is a cover story, a deception. Can you say identity crisis?
[Nick] grabbed a fistful of the chains around her neck, and she turned her face away. They had been like this for as long as Nick could remember. He could not forgive her for the lives they had led, for Dad's death. He could not forget the look on Alan's face, and that was her fault as well. (3.179)
This is one of the sentiments it's kind of cool to come back to after you've finished the book and you know the truth behind all the lies. Like so many of Nick's beliefs, this one is based on a false premise, and there's a lot going on that Nick doesn't yet understand.
Nick didn't lie. He'd seen Alan lie to people his whole life and every time he opened a book he saw words twist across pages, their meaning slipping away from him. Words were treacherous enough without him telling lies. (3.250)
It's true—Nick doesn't lie. He says what he thinks (often without thinking at all), and to some extent we have to respect that. As for Alan, he tells a lot of lies, but on some level, we understand—and respect—his choices, too. So who do you think is more honorable here? The brother who doesn't lie, but unbeknownst to himself is living a lie, or the brother who lies in order to protect him? It's a tough question to understand, we know, and it's even tougher to answer.
Everyone pretended the world was different than it was. Nick supposed he shouldn't be surprised. After all, most people did not even know magic existed. People were good at being blind. (4.185)
Self-deception: we all fall victim to it from time to time. It can be pretty easy to see what we want to see or hear what we want to hear in situations where the alternatives are less attractive. Like if you fail a test because you didn't study the material (at all), sometimes it's easier to blame the teacher. Or the test. Or your lack of sleep. Or the student behind you who kept coughing and blowing his nose. Anything but your poor study habits, because admitting that you dropped the ball can be tough.
He had always assumed that Alan never lied to him, and now the idea that Alan might lie, might already be lying, was like being asked to read in school. He felt panicked, not knowing what to say. He had a picture of words stacked up around him, caging him in, and not one of them could he trust. (6.188)
Yup—when your reality shifts, when you realize that something you've always counted on might not be true, it can be a real spirit crusher. Because if the truths on which you've based your beliefs aren't true at all, then what is?
There were neatly tended gardens, fresh paint on the doors, and general sense of well-being about the whole area. Here, suggested the blooming flowerbeds, people were comfortable, families were secure, and above all, children were sheltered.
Nick knew it was an illusion. These people hurt each other as much as all families did… (11.2-3)
You can't judge a book by its cover, and you can't judge a neighborhood by its flower gardens. Even the most well-kept house with the most manicured lawn and the most pristine paint job can hide some dirty secrets.
When Nick came in, [Mum] was sitting on a stool, straight-backed, dealing cards for herself on her bed. She turned a smiling face to the door and saw him. …
Nick realized that he always thought of her at her worst, during the screaming fits or the times she had to be medicated. She was always at her worst when Nick was there. (12.26-27)
D'oh—that's a connection Nick's never made before: that the common denominator in his mother's bad moods is… (ouch) him. She's always at her worst when he's around, and he has no way of knowing what she's like when he's not.
Demons had black eyes only when they were possessing human bodies. […] Nick knew that the possessed had black eyes, had always known that, and he had looked into the mirror a thousand times and never put it together. (15.5)
Ever been in a situation like this, where all the clues are right there in front of you but you can't see them because you can't even conceive of the truth to which they point? It happens a lot in movies or mysteries that are well plotted and involve cool twists at the end. The evidence is there from the beginning, but we don't see it because we don't know what to look for. One word for all these subtle clues is foreshadowing. Another word for them is fun.