Like her Grass Angel, Schumacher's latest story follows a sympathetic preteen as she fumbles her way toward adulthood. As the novel opens, 12-year-old Theodora Grumman sets out for her annual summer visit at her grandparents' home at the Jersey shore. But this year, her mother hands her "a notebook of truths." The woman explains, "You can write anything you want in here as long as every single thing you write is true." Gradually, readers learn that Thea began lying in February, due to a near-tragic event that she has promised to keep secret, and her mother's gift proves to be the key to unlocking it. The notebook's 100 truths begin benignly ("Truth #3: I don't know what to write in this notebook"), but soon clue readers in to Thea's anxieties and even her sense of humor, as events in the narrative trigger her entries. For instance, when her seven-year-old cousin and roommate, Jocelyn, becomes a "miniature shadow," Thea writes, "Truth #5: I really, really don't like sharing a bedroom." But Jocelyn carries a secret of her own, and as the book progresses, she acts as the perfect catalyst both to pull Thea away from her overburdened thoughts and to trigger Thea's confiding of her disturbing secret. The lessons the two learn feel genuine, as do the relationships among other members of this big, boisterous extended family. With their help, Thea learns that everyone makes mistakes and that telling the truth, no matter how difficult, is always better than lying. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Elisabeth Greenberg
As Thea heads for her grandparents' home, her mother hands her an unwelcome present, "a notebook of truths" with the admonition "You can write anything you want in here as long as every single thing you write is true." Nothing could be more difficult for Thea; she is a liar. However, that summer becomes special as she weighs many things in terms of their truth, admitting that some of her father's relatives are crazy, that she's furious at being dumped with her annoying young cousin Jocelyn, and other unpalatable but true things. Her quirky perspective on life and her engaging voice make her a delightful protagonist as she and Jocelyn go on a hunt for the "truth" about what the eccentric aunts are doing. As Thea sifts, and often misinterprets, information, she realizes that telling the truth is a great comfort; secrets cause fault lines in families and friendships. When she and Jocelyn have a bike accident and end up in the hospital, Jocelyn, who's been secretly reading Thea's notebook, reveals Thea's secret, and the reason she became a liar. At book's ending, both Jocelyn and Thea have grown older, wiser, and more at ease with themselves, each other, and their family. Well-drawn characters, from Thea and Jocelyn to Nenna and Granda and the boy cousins, fill the book. Realistic situations, seen from an early teen perspective, keep the story moving with humor and verve, while the tracing of Thea's thoughts and possible explanations will resonate with readers.
From the Publisher
“Issues of secrets and lies will resonate with young readers. . . . A compelling novel.”–The Bulletin
“Strong characterizations. . . . Readers will respond to [Jocelyn’s] fortitude.”–Booklist
Read an Excerpt
Probably because they didn’t trust me, my parents were grilling me at the airport in Minneapolis, asking all the usual travel questions. Did I have my backpack? Yes. Did I have the claim check for my suitcase? Yes. Did I need to use the bathroom?
“Guess what? They have bathrooms on planes now,” I said.
My father patted his pockets. “Do you need any chewing gum?”
“I already have some.”
“A bottle of water?”
“Dad,” I said. “This is kind of insulting.”
“Okay, I’ll stop. A magazine?”
Every summer since I was six years old, my parents had been sending me to visit my father’s relatives at the beach in New Jersey. They were always more anxious about it than I was. I liked eating lunch on the plane at thirty thousand feet, and I liked staying at my grand- parents’ house, which was full of lumpy, mismatched furniture and old-fashioned wallpaper that would have been seriously ugly anywhere else.
Yes, I said. I had a magazine. I had absolutely everything that a person going on a plane could possibly want.
But then my mother cleared her throat, opened a shopping bag I hadn’t noticed, and offered me a notebook. It was light blue, with thick, heavy unlined paper—a much nicer notebook than the kind I used at school.
“What’s that for?” I felt uneasy. I was already bringing a lot of things with me: a gift for my grandparents, a lunch and some junk food, my CD player and a dozen CDs, and several books that my father insisted I would want to read.
“It’s a notebook of truths,” my mother said. She flipped the pages of the notebook and held it toward me. “You can write anything you want in here, as long as every single thing you write is true.”
“What do you mean, every single thing?” I looked at the notebook but didn’t touch it. On its cover was a white star about the size of my fingertip. All around us, people were pushing strollers and dragging suitcases toward their gates.
“Well, I’m not talking about essays, or even paragraphs,” my mother said. She was standing very close to me; I could smell peppermint on her breath. “I’m only talking about observations. Write a few sentences at first. You can make a list.”
“Gee. A list.” I shifted my backpack to my other shoulder. “That sounds exciting.”
My mother didn’t appreciate sarcasm. “Notebooks are private,” she went on. I was almost exactly her height, and she was looking at me forehead to forehead, eye to eye. “That’s the best thing about them. You can write down any truths at all. Anything you’re thinking.”
“The world is round,” I said. “How’s that for a truth?”
My mother tucked her hair behind her ears and said that the world is round was a fact instead of a truth, and that there was a difference. She said she suspected I knew what it was.
“Time to get on that plane,” my father said. He clapped his hands.
Here was a truth: my father didn’t like goodbyes. He didn’t like train stations or bus depots or airports. I could tell he was nervous by the way he had been jingling the change in his pockets.
A tall blond woman ran over my foot with her rolling suitcase.
“We have one more minute,” my mother said. She straightened the sleeve of my T-shirt and pulled me aside. “You’ll be gone for three weeks. Twenty-two days. If you write down four or five true things every day”—she tapped the cover of the notebook—“you’ll have a hundred. A hundred true things.”
“A hundred,” I repeated. I had to admit that one hundred truths had a certain ring to it.
“You’ll feel better if you use this,” my mother said. “You never know what you might discover. You might learn something new.” Her green eyes were like matching traffic lights. “You might find out something new about who you are.”
I didn’t want to get into that kind of discussion. I took the notebook. It felt good in my hands; the blue cover was soft.
“Off you go, then,” my father said. He gave my ticket to the flight attendant, who wrapped a paper bracelet around my wrist as if I were two years old instead of almost thirteen.
I started down the carpeted hallway and waved. My parents, their arms around each other’s shoulders, waved back.
“We’ll see you soon,” my father said. “Call us when you get there. And have a good time. Behave yourself.”
I told him I would.
But I should probably mention something right now, before this story goes any further: my name is Theodora Grumman, and I am a liar.
From the Hardcover edition.