CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 6 . . . . October 7, 2011
Set in the 1930s after the economic collapse, The Whole Truth tells the story of two sisters and how their lives change forever. After the death of their single father, sisters Maud and Polly climb aboard a train and travel across Canada into a potentially hostile family situation to live with their grandmother, someone they hardly know. Their mother, Una, had passed away when the girls were still small children, leaving her daughters in the care of their father and paternal grandmother, who also passed away. Before Una's death, she had a terrible argument with the girls' maternal grandmother, and the two women became estranged from one another, cutting the girls off from their mother's side of the family. On her deathbed, Una made their father promise not to let the girls have a relationship with their grandmother, and he was able to keep that promise until his own mysterious death.
Maud and Polly now find themselves struggling to adjust to life on the opposite side of the country on a remote island off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Wary of being in such a small, isolated community, the girls settle in and quietly keep to themselves. But when Maud is sent away to attend a private girls boarding school in Victoria, Polly is left all alone in unfamiliar surroundings with a family she hardly knows. Trying to eke out a new life for themselves, both Maud and Polly are torn between forgetting their painful past with their beloved Daddy entirely or struggling to hold on to what memories they have left of their happy, but sorrowful, lives together. To make matters more complicated, the sisters have sworn a blood oath to keep the real events that led to Daddy's death a secret, no matter what.
Award-winning author and Canadian favourite Kit Pearson has written a solid, dramatic, and mysterious historical novel that would please older elementary school and younger high school students alike. Filled with historically accurate details, The Whole Truth lets readers go back in time to see what life was like in 1930s Canada. The difference in the girls' lives between when they were living with their poor, out-of-work father and later with their well-off, comfortable grandmother illustrates the economic disparity between different segments in the population during this period. Pearson shows readers what life was really like back then by weaving in gentle commentaries on instances of racism and class division that readers might find surprising. Students whose own families have been split apart will find a character they can identify with in Polly, who is more sensitive to the life changes than her older sister.
While the storyline, setting, character and plot development are all excellent, there are a few awkward subplots that stood out in the storyline that are worth being aware of. As Polly is adjusting to her new life on the island, she decides to become a vegetarian. Throughout the story, Polly struggles to maintain her vegetarian principles to not eat meat, but time and again she finds herself enjoying roast dinners and berating herself for breaking her promise to herself. What was perhaps meant to develop Polly's character ends up distracting from the main themes of love, loss, truth, trust, and friendship. Polly's sister, Maud, undergoes a similar character development whereby she becomes overtly religious and espouses the benefits of being saved and accepting Jesus to her family members when she visits home from boarding school. While Maud's religious transformation flows more easily with the storyline than does Polly's vegetarian struggle, these are minor blips in an otherwise flawless story.
This novel would be an excellent choice for libraries whose readers clamor for historical novels and want to learn what life was really like in the not-so-distant past. Students drawn to mystery stories will also find the secrecy surrounding Daddy's death intriguing and will want to read more to find out what really happened. Give this novel to readers who enjoy stories about family dynamics, friendships, and the struggle to cope when life turns out differently than it's supposed to.
Amy Dawley is the teen librarian at the Prince George Public Library in Prince George, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.