Title: What I Thought Was True
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Release Date: April 15th, 2014
Although Fitzpatrick’s sophomore novel has made it onto many “Waiting on Wednesday” posts and “Top Ten Most Anticipated” lists, it’s one of the last books I expected to be reading this year. While Fitzpatrick managed to hit the nail on the head concerning quite a few issues with her debut novel, My Life Next Door fell seriously flat for me. Thus, to find myself quite besotted with her sophomore piece is a surprise, to say the least. But What I Thought Was True battles the crashing waves of adolescence with an honesty that is forthcoming, a romance that is flawed, and relationships that really do withstand the test of time.
What I Thought Was True is a tale with multiple plot threads, but Fitzpatrick manages to make these complex story lines converge in a cohesive manner. While Fitzpatrick’s debut was set in a small town, her sophomore novel takes place on a quaint island whose class divisions are starkly felt. Gwen Castle, the protagonist of our tale, hails from a long line of Portuguese fishermen and lives on the wrong side of the bridge. Stony Bay, just across the bridge, is home to rich private schools, decadent clubs, and wealthy homes while in Gwen’s own household her mother is a house-cleaner and both she and her cousin take on summer jobs to help carry the economic weight of the household.
Fitzpatrick instills the very mentality of this town slowly, but deeply, into your very bones itself. It’s always difficult to convey the sense, the feeling, of a fictional location without spelling it out explicitly but Fitzpatrick outdoes herself with What I Thought Was True. Gwen’s household, as well, is so vibrantly portrayed. First and foremost, it is an interracial setting with Gwen herself being only half-Portuguese but her cultural heritage is keenly felt, as are the personas of all her family members. Gwen’s parents, though divorced, are both still very much present in her life, albeit in different ways, as is her grandfather whose presence adds to the ethnic feel of the story. Of utmost importance, though, is Emory, Gwen’s eight-year-old brother who isn’t autistic, but isn’t perfectly normal either, as well as Gwen’s eighteen-year-old cousin brother, Nic, who has lived with them for as long as Gwen can remember.
Gwen, her best friend Vivian, and Nic have been the three musketeers for years and although Vivian and Nic have now been dating for years, their friendship hasn’t changed. While Vivian and Nic share the type of relationship that Gwen – and everyone, really – only dreams of, the summer brings forth unexpected cracks. For one, there is the wild rumor that Vivan and Nic have been looking at engagement rings – a fact kept wholly secret from Gwen. Add to that the fact that Nic dreams of joining the Coast Guard while Viv simply wants to stay in their small island town and Gwen is officially caught between the two people who mean the most to her. Fitzpatrick does such a skillful job of navigating the multiple relationships that Gwen possesses in her life, taking the time to develop these integral friendships through meaningful conversation. While these three teens start their summer thinking they want one thing, they wind up realizing that life doesn’t always give us what we want and, even scarier, what we want can change – quite suddenly, too.
“And this is the hardest, weirdest part of not being that barefoot girl and that towheaded boy running down the sand to the water, all legs and elbows and unself-conscious. Suddenly, you edge your way to the end of your second ten years and BOOM. Your choices matter. Not chocolate or vanilla, bridge or pier, Sandy Claw or Abenaki. It’s your whole life. We’re suddenly this close, like Nic said, to the wrong move. Or the right one. It matters now.” (Page 236)
Surprisingly enough, though I enjoyed Gwen’s incredibly developed relationships, as well as the growth that she and her loved ones go through, the romance truly did sweep me off my feet. In fact, there are no love stories I love better than those which feature protected sex, a feminist heroine, and a respectful hero. What I Thought Was True starts off with Gwen trying her level best to avoid Cassidy and failing quite spectacularly as he seems to pop up wherever she goes. Cassidy lives in Stony Bay, the rich side of the bridge, and Gwen, for all her helpful tendencies, has a bit of a reputation. Fitzpatrick takes her time to unveil the truth of Gwen’s past, not just with Cassidy, mind you, but I loved that she never judged her own character for her actions. Even better, Gwen isn’t ashamed of her actions. Granted, she does have regrets – which teenager doesn’t? – but she isn’t embarrassed by wanting physical affection and, what’s more, isn’t a simpering virgin.
Yet, Gwen is a good girl. Not only is she honest, but she is respectful and kind. Not a slut, not a bitch, and not a whore. With Gwen, Fitzpatrick has created a heroine who doesn’t fit into the typical boxes – white, virgin, innocent – but she also hasn’t flaunted her protagonist. We don’t realize that Gwen is ebony-skinned until almost half-way through the book (although it’s quite easy to surmise from her heritage). We aren’t made to question Gwen’s virginity – or lack of it – or even gasp at the honest sexual discussions she shares with her best friend. Fitzpatrick makes it seem so effortlessly easy to include friendships, close family ties, culture, heritage, and a meaningful romance that stresses a respect for boundaries. I only wish more authors would write contemporary novels like this one because, frankly, this is what the industry needs, not more
Twilight Fifty Shades of Grey rip-offs.
And speaking of alpha males, can we all applaud the fact that Cassidy might just be the total opposite of one? Admittedly, his relationship with Gwen has a bit of a rocky past but at the core he's an absolute sweetheart. Gwen and Cassidy's romance is slow, tortuous, and an enticing sizzle to read unfold. Full of open discussion, unsaid secrets, and an undercurrent of sexual tension, I loved every one of their interactions (particularly when Cassidy turns on his charm!). Yet, what I love most about their relationship is that it affirms the boundaries these two desire in their relationship and reaffirms them all over again when they change. It's such a healthy relationship, one in which both parties are happy and the pace is moving according to their own desires, not their past experiences. Of course, getting to the relationship in question is one of the best arcs in the story, but the sustaining romance is a favorite of mine as well.
Ultimately, I cannot recommend this book enough. What I Thought Was True is an incredible story about growing up and facing the hard truths that life throws at you. It’s a novel about coming to terms with the hand you’ve been dealt, learning to cope with change, and, most importantly, sustaining relationships despite the hurdles. Fitzpatrick could have easily molded this into “just another” summer romance but, trust me, it is so much more than that. Needless to say, I’ve already ordered a copy of this for my own bookshelf to hug, just as much as I will.