Friday, May 15, 2009

Teen Review: Nothing But the Truth

A wonderful teen blogger, Miss Erin, recommended North of Beautiful by her favorite author, Justina Chen Headley. My library didn’t have that book yet, so I picked up another of Headley’s novels, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies). I wasn’t disappointed.

Patty Ho is dealing with all the typical problems of a freshman in high school – trying to fit in, wanting the school’s soccer star to notice her, and worrying about seeming too smart to be cool. But Patty also feels torn between two worlds: her mother’s Taiwanese world and the mostly-white world of her high school. In these excerpts from her English assignment to write the Truth about herself, Patty describes herself:

Truth: I am a fourteen-year-old stick-thin giant who is imprisoned in the house of midgets. My mother barely squeaks over five feet tall, and calling my big brother Abe “big” is a misnomer when I’m a good five inches taller than him. I have to assume that my height comes from my father, but he’s a short story in our home. It goes something like this: Once upon a time, Stanley Peter Johnson transferred from Berkeley to study at the University of Taipei for a year. He conquered, he came, and he left with a couple of made-in-Taiwan souvenirs: my mom and Abe. Apparently, his American dream didn’t include a mixed-race family of four. So for my second birthday, he gave me a good-bye kiss and vanished. End of story.

…But it is also true that I can pass. I can pass biology (miraculously), notes in class (well), and plates of food (perfectly). I cannot pass out (Why be out of control when I’m never in control in my prison cell of a home?) or pass a basketball (which bombs the theory that all tall kids can be basketball stars).

But I cannot pass for white or Asian.

At the end of the school year, Patty’s mother makes unexpected – and unwanted – plans for her summer: math camp. To make matters worse, Patty’s English teacher correctly assumes that Patty wrote her yearlong Truth project in only one night and reassigns it to her for the summer. Patty heads off for camp, certain it’s going to be torture, and uncertain of how she’ll write the truth about herself when she isn’t sure what that is. But unexpected opportunities arise at camp, and Patty begins to open her mind to new possibilities about herself.

I wondered at first whether I would relate to Patty’s mixed-race difficulties, but her struggles to find her identity and fit in are universal insecurities that every teen (and adult!) deals with. Headley is a wonderful writer, and Patty is a very likable narrator, telling her story with honesty and humor. I had trouble putting this book down and cheered for Patty through her tragedies and triumphs. I look forward to reading more of Headley’s novels.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review!

Is there anything that would make this book inappropriate for an 11 year old (good reader, fairly naive)?

Of course, this sounds interesting enough that I might just read it myself, whether or not my daughter is ready for it!

Erin said...

I'm so glad you liked this! I'm sure you'll like her others, too.