Friday KidLit Book Review: The Honest Truth

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
Welcome to my Summer Friday series, where I feature a KidLit book I've recently read and enjoyed.

The Honest Truth wasn't on my original list of summer kid lit books, but I inserted it into my queue once I heard that my daughter was given a choice between two books, this one and another, for their last in-class novel.

Here's what I thought.

As A Reader: I got a library copy and a bunch of the pages were kind of wavy, like somebody else had cried on them before me. I added more tears and the pages are now even wavier. It was that sad. But it was the kind of sad that stretches your heart just a little bit bigger too. This book grabbed me and didn't let go. I read it in one big soggy session, and while there was much to love (particularly the relationship between the boy and his dog,) there were also lots of troubling themes, choices, lessons, and takeaways that left me feeling unsure about whether to recommend it to kids.

As A Mom: I found the story to be quite dark for a book for kids, with some big themes that I wouldn't want kids to read without some guided discussion to help them understand it and think about implications and alternatives to the character's choices. The themes are dark and depressing. A very sick kid goes on what appears to be a suicide mission. He is angry at the unfairness of his circumstance, which is understandable, but his choices show very little regard for the feelings of the people who love him. He gains some understanding of the bigger picture by the end, but it took a long time to get there. I am also concerned about the implication that friends should always keep each other's secrets, even when the friend is putting himself in harm's way. This feels like a dangerous message to have out there in the tween age group.

As A Writer: Despite my mixed feelings about the messages in the book, and it's appropriateness for middle grade audiences, I greatly admired the writing, and I want to read more from this new author. It was a gripping story and beautifully written. I like the use of alternating perspectives between the boy and his friend, and the "chapter-and-a-half" device, with italics, to help mark the switches. I thought his use of progressive complications was unrelenting in a good way, keeping the story moving and increasing the stakes. I admired the interiority and how it evolved throughout the story. I loved how the meaning of the graphics on the cover and the chapter dividers became clear in the end. 

My Daughter's Perspective: As I mentioned above, this book was one of two choices given to her by her 5th grade teacher as their last in-class read of the year. She had heard this one was sad, so she picked the other one. Now that I've read it, I'm less optimistic she'll give it a try, once she hears confirmation from me that was, indeed, quite sad. But, if she decides to give it a try, I won't encourage her to read it in class, both because it's the kind of book you have to read in private, so you can cry freely and not worry about being embarrassed, but also because I'd want to be able to talk to her about it, so that I can help her question some of the lessons the book appears to teach.

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