Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Truth According To Us by Annie Barrows

the truth according to us
The Truth According To Us by Annie Barrows
Released: June 9th  2015
Publisher: The Dial Press
Source: ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads | Amazon

In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten. (from Amazon)

It was about halfway through that I knew this book would break my heart. I knew it was going to cause me an extreme amount of emotional pain, and every self-preservational instinct I had was telling me to stop reading. But I couldn't, because that's a fairly usual feeling I get when I'm discovering a new book to add to my favorites list. I had the same feeling when I read Maeve Binchy's The Glass Lake, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road. This feeling keeps pretty good company, so I tend to ignore it.

The Truth According To Us is about a young girl, her aunt, and a woman whose presence altered this family's perception of truth forever. It's about a family still trying to redeem themselves and recover from a tragedy that happened 18-yrs in the past. It's about spying and bootlegging, lying to others and lying to one's self, fitting in and breaking free. There are so many stories being told all at once, but the chaos of it was... kind of the point.

I could have read the book entirely from young Willa Romeyn's point of view, whose precocious and childishly clever and unadulterated voice reminded me of Scout Finch. The love she has for her Aunt Jottie and her not-always-around father Felix Romeyn, as well as the rest of her family, and the way she thinks about them and acts around them and for them - it's the heart and soul of this book. I felt a bond with Willa. What she goes through, the way in which she feels, the way she has this desperate need to know her family, even the way she dreams, I felt a kindred spirit in her. There is nothing better about reading a book than finding a soul mate in its pages.

But Willa's story was only part of the tale, completed by the stories told by Jottie Romeyn (who is stuck in the past) and Miss Layla Beck (who is struggling to figure out her future), and how their lives, for however long or short a time, basically revolve around Felix. It's an interesting thing because he has so little present page time, but consumes so much of the book. Throughout the entire novel, you can see how Felix is bad to the bone, but at the same time why Willa and Jottie stick by him with a devotion that both melted and broke my heart. And perhaps its for that reason that Felix is lovable, not for himself but because of Willa and Jottie.

Layla Beck is a different story. She is a bit of an oxymoron. She's both loveable and irreversibly annoying. She was a main character with a strangely secondary character feel. Though, that is to be expected when you are surrounded by the Romeyn family. But Layla shines in her own way, if you're willing to put up with her. She's smart, but naive. Stubborn, but floundering completely out of her element. But I have to say, the best part about Layla is that she latches onto the Romeyn family, which is probably the best and worst thing anyone can do.

Much of the tone of this book is similar to that of Annie Barrows's other book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It has the same small town, home-is-where-the-heart-is vibe; the same type of endearing and quirky cast of secondary and background characters; and the same authentic taste of history. And while Guernsey has plenty of critical acclaim, I must say that I felt The Truth According To Us surpassed it, emotionally, technically, vocally, though this may be because I am not partial to the epistolary style of Guersney.

However, I am going to conclude this review with a quote from Guernsey.

"Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books 
that brings them to their perfect readers."

That's how I feel The Truth According To Us came to me. There are certain books that come into your life and you feel like they belong there, with you, and they were always meant to belong to you. So much of this book feels like it belongs to me and me alone, but I know and I hope that many someone elses will find this book and feel the exact same way.

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