By Dan Gemeinhart
Available now from Scholastic Press
I was 100% sure I did not want to read a novel about a twelve-year-old boy with cancer, but I was convinced to give this one a try anyway because of some trustworthy people gushing about the writing. I must say that the writing is lovely, especially the little haiku Mark comes up with on his journey.
THE HONEST TRUTH evokes old-school adventure novels, just a boy and his dog surviving on their own. The boy is not stranded by a plain crash nor parental death or abandonment. He runs away to climb Mt. Rainier, which he promised to climb before he died. And he's afraid, and angry, now that his cancer is back. He fought a long, four-year fight, and Mark's not sure if he's up for fighting again, even if he doesn't want to die.
That angry part is important. I loved that Mark is not a nobly suffering kid with cancer. He is tired of being the nobly sick child. He makes a lot of bad decisions in THE HONEST TRUTH, but they do feel like they come from an honest place. They come from anger and despair and fear.
There are places where the novel falls apart for me. The chapters alternate with interstitials from Jessie, Mark's best friend who knows where he is running. I wasn't thrilled by the depiction of their friendship, but horrified that she wouldn't realize this is not a time to keep her friend's secret, especially when the weather turns worse. I find the adult who knows that Mark is the runaway on television and does nothing to stop his foolhardy plan absolutely unbelievable. I must agree with Mrs. Yingling that Mark choosing to take his small dog on this dangerous journey is unspeakable, rather than a beautiful portrayal of the bond between boy and companion.
I thought THE HONEST TRUTH was a beautifully told story, and I really liked that Dan Gemeinhart didn't turn it into a tearjerker. THE HONEST TRUTH was much less sad than I expected. At the same time, if you're handing this book to someone actually in the intended audience, I'd accompany it with a discussion about bad decisions. I can just forgive the ailing twelve-year-old, but so many of the other characters act like they have no sense.