Tuesday, September 24, 2013
ARC Review: All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry
Title: All the Truth That's In Me
Author: Julie Berry
Rating: 5 Stars
Release Date: September 26th, 2013
In life, there are always those books you just know you're going to read, no matter what; maybe it's written by your favorite author or it came highly recommended by a trusted reviewer or maybe the cover is just too pretty to resist. And then there are the books you read because you're curious; because a certain review sparked your interest or the author said something remarkable in an interview or the cover flashed by your vision and you couldn't stop thinking about it. For me,All the Truth That's In Me falls into the latter category. Needless to say, this novel took me by surprise, but in all the best ways. While I began this novel with trepidation - after all, it is full of Things That Shouldn't Work - I closed it with the awed expression of a reader whose expectations have been blown sky high.
Things That Shouldn't Work (But Did!)
1. Second Person Narration
Only three years ago, a friend and I wrote a short story together. It was an intense, psychological piece about two friends - one German and one Jewish - whose friendship was ripped apart by WWII. Nothing unique, except for the fact that it was written in second person. (A decision our teacher didn't condone at all, so we were forced to revert to third person, though I believe our second person version is still lying around somewhere in the depths of my e-mail folder.)
Quite simply put, second person narration doesn't work for a lot of people, both readers and writers. It's tricky, it's frustrating, and at times unnecessarily complicated. Thus, to see Berry execute it with such ease, poise, and sheer talent is nothing short of brilliant. All the Truth That's In Me works as a letter, of sorts, from Judith to her childhood lover, Lucas. Judith, at fourteen, was kept captive in the woods, but is sent back, years later, with her tongue cut off. Unable to talk and thought to be cursed by her small Puritan town - including her own mother - Judith learns to live in silence. Her second person narration works seamlessly with her story line, conveying the horror of her cruel past, the isolation of her present, and the bleakness of her future. Moreover, it is strangely intimate, allowing us to see Judith in both her strongest and weakest lights. Ever since she was a young girl, Judith has been in love with Lucas, and with her directly speaking to him, so much of her nature seeps through these pages - her loyalty, fierce love, and even obsessiveness. It's a truly wise decision that enables us, the reader, to understand Judith on a much deeper level, practically crawling into her thoughts.
I feel as if it's an unspoken rule that only Nathaniel Hawthorne can pull off the Puritans. (And, let me make it very clear, I love The Scarlett Letter like I love The Great Gatsby, so believe me when I say I'd kill to have written that book.) While the precise setting of All the Truth That's In Me is not given, it is clear that the novel takes place in a historical era, one where pilgrims have only recently escaped religious persecution, are required to attend church every Sunday, and live by rigid moral laws. If that doesn't practically spell "Puritan" then I don't know what does.
While I really enjoyed this setting while reading the novel, I thought - extensively - about how the story would have been different in modern-day society. Why does an author make the decision to anchor a novel in a certain time period after all, especially when the events in this book - kidnapping, estrangement, societal mistreatment - could have happened today too? I think the beauty of this novel lies in the answer to that question. From the surface, the cruel punishments Judith bears upon her return - the blame for her father's death, a stigma as a whore, complete estrangement by former friends - can be attributed to the rigidity of the morals the Puritans lived by. After all, in a society with much looser morals, mightn't have Judith's homecoming have been a different experience? Maybe, but maybe not. What this Puritan setting does so well is emphasize the inherent evils visible in humans, and that faint line drawn between black and white becomes all the more hard to see set against this time period. Berry paints depicts this morality question beautifully, creating complicated relationships that can claim no simple label. I love that Judith shares so many different types of relationships - with her mother, with her brother, with her friends - but they all contain aspects of this time period and are deliciously ambiguous when it comes to the question of morality. Moreover, I love my historical fiction, so details of Judith's struggle in this century only made her story more authentic.
3. Childhood Romance
I know I struggle with love stories - namely, their believability - but childhood romances practically never work for me. I find that authors seem to take it for granted that the duration of time these characters have known each other should equate love. It doesn't, but thankfully Berry doesn't fall into that trap. Very carefully, she builds a contrast between Judith's love for Lucas as a child, and then as an adult. I particularly love how true to age Berry remains, showing us the naivety of a girl's dreams and then the truth of a woman's reality. Now, after her ordeal, Judith returns to see Lucas gearing up to marry the town belle and, as such, her love changes. It remains, constant and true, no matter what, but it also slowly acknowledges that Lucas is not the paragon of perfection that she's built him up to be. One of my favorite aspects of this novel is that Judith's growth and maturity is so closely tied with the romance; that the most important lesson she learns is to fall in love with the truth - of her past, of her deformity, and of love. Just the fact that Judith is able to eventually come to love Lucas despite - and maybe for - his flaws makes their love story all the more realistic and durable. It isn't an easy journey, but it is certainly a rewarding one.
4. Maiming & Disabilities
I recently read this incredibly detailed post about diversity - or the lack of it - in YA. And while All the Truth That's In Me doesn't necessarily involve non-white characters, it does feature a protagonist who is maimed. Judith's speechlessness is derived from her own physical barriers, unlike most heroines, which makes this novel fall into 2.9% of novels in 2013 with disabled characters. Normally, this fact would probably remain rather unremarkable. After all, many novels feature secondary character with disabilities and, either way, Judith's inability to speak is an enormous plot device. And yet, Berry truly give this issue so much more depth. Not only does Judith work at regaining her ability to speak fluently, but she feels - constantly - the unfairness of her circumstances.
"Will I help him make something of his life? Who will help me? Why does everyone presume that I, as damaged merchandise, forfeit any claim to happiness? That I expect nothing, have no ambitions or longings of my own? When was it agreed that my lot would be to gladly serve as a prop and a crutch for others who are whole?" (Berry, 53%)*
Instead of her disability making her the center of attention, Judith is pushed into the very corners of thought, her silence taken for granted as acquiescence. Essentially, her speechlessness makes her come across as a woman with no thoughts or opinions of her own. I love that Berry touched upon these ideals, only because they weren't ever ones I would have considered and this is precisely why I read: to be introduced to new ways of thinking.
5. A "Pinhole" Plot
I've heard this novel being described as a "pinhole" one, or one in which the entirety of the story is revealed as the book wears on. Well, let me tell you now, these "pinhole" methods never work for me. Never. I have no patience for authors who tantalizingly dangle answers just out of my grasp, so color me surprised to find myself flipping through the pages of this novel gleefully - "pinhole" storytelling and all. What Berry does, that most authors don't, however, is reveal pieces of information in a timely fashion. It is evident, from early in the story, who Judith's kidnapper is. And yet, the full details of her ordeal are never revealed until the end. Instead, small flashbacks litter the narration, working beautifully to weave mystery and thrill into this otherwise seemingly romantic tale. While I remain a fan of the slow, languid prose used in this novel, not to mention the character-driven plot focus, I am sure that not all readers will agree. And yet, I felt as if these purposeful decisions only worked to strengthen the plot, making us care for these characters and drown in seas of emotion. I know that by the end of this book, I was gripping the edge of my chair, unsure whether or not to laugh or cry or scream. And I love that build-up of tension, that slow unraveling of mystery, and the eventual - realistic - conclusion of a well-told tale.
All the Truth That's In Me truly hit all the right notes, at least in my book. Not only did it take a myriad of challenging qualities (see above) and make them work, but it also took the essentials I look for in a good story - characters with depth, thriller plot lines, and emotional undertones - and excelled in those areas as well. While I've never read any of Berry's past novels, you can be sure that I will - eagerly - be checking out her future YA works. After I own this beautiful hardcover on my shelves, that is.