Monday, March 7, 2016

Fiction | Celebrating Truth in a World of Lies

It would've been easy to count any one of my random reads as the YA title in the Read Harder Challenge. I'm constantly reading books from my school library, after all. I decided to be purposeful with this choice, though, so I depended on my Goodreads "want to read" queue to provide a YA book I had probably long forgotten I wanted to read.

The one I settled upon was The Truth Commission by Susan Juby. It's organized as a book within a book (so meta)--the final Spring Special Project authored by 11th grader Normandy Pale. In this project, she relays the stories surrounding the formation of the Truth Commission, an informal group begun by Normandy and her two best friends that seeks truths from their peers.

But before I jump into that part of the story, let me give you the background...

Normandy attends Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design, a total hippie art school where students are encouraged to find their voice and express them as loudly as possible. Normandy is actually one of the quieter, less showy students there; she's exploring writing as her avenue of focus, as demonstrated by this final project of narrative nonfiction. She's also used to being secondary to her sister, the legendary Kiera Pale, a best-selling graphic novelist whose familial inspiration unfortunately doesn't portray Normandy and her parents in the best light.

So Normandy is used to the background, and she's created quite a nice little world for herself with her best friends Neil and Dusk. But one random conversation starts to shift Normandy's world off-kilter. When Neil breaks the unwritten code against directness and asks a fellow student about her very obvious plastic surgery (and it's not a totally offensive disaster), the Truth Commission is born with the mission to discourage hearsay and celebrate the beauty of openness. Normandy, though, is more hesitant to jump into the truth than her friends, especially when her truth mission involves a very touchy target—the infamous Kiera herself, who has suddenly returned home from college, seemingly traumatized by some unknown incident.

This was a really odd book. I think most readers will have strong reactions to it, one way or another, and I can't say mine was totally positive. Often, if I have a negative reaction to a book, it's the characters that prevented my enjoyment. This time, it was the less common opposite—I didn't mind the main character so much; I just found the story to be lacking. And not even the story itself, because I like this premise of a "truth commission." Maybe there were too many other small factors that bothered me. Like Normandy's sister who, with her whole ridiculous story is a total UGH, like one of those terrible people you know must exist in the world but is so absurd she seems unbelievable. And her parents who are total doormats. And also the fact that the ENTIRE BOOK is littered with FOOTNOTES, which is basically the most annoying text feature ever, especially when coming from the brain of a 16ish-year-old AND when you're reading it on a Kindle and have to click back and forth and back and forth.

I don't know. I think my adulthood cynicism comes out most often with YA books. Some I love, some I hate, and I think my more negative reactions usually stem from kitschy teen tropes that I know aren't geared towards my 30-year-old self anyways but that I can't get past because I hate teens being defined and pigeonholed any certain way in the first place.

I didn't mean for this to be a whole diatribe of negativity, because really this book isn't bad, and though YA is a genre, really it's just a target demographic, and there are—and should be!—as many different styles and voices for this audience as for any other. So maybe I should just end my commentary here with a 100% personal opinion-based verdict of "good concept, didn't like the execution." But by all means, give it a try—it's got some rave reviews on Goodreads!

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