Saturday, January 17, 2015

Parents should read "The Honest Truth" by Dan Gemeinhart along with their middle-grade children

I received a free ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review.

This is a middle-grade book that offers something to both the intended audience (ages 8-12) and the adults in their lives. And each group will feel differently about what is happening in the book. For that reason, I think it would be great if parents read this book along with their children and talked about their reactions to what is happening.

My initial reaction to this book was "Ugh, not another sick kid book. It's going to be such a depressing downer." I didn't decide to read it until I read some other reactions and I am glad I didn't let the subject matter turn me away from it. Because it is not so much about a sick kid as it is about love and loyalty and friendship and dealing with unwelcome news. With a big dose of adventure tossed in to keep the kids from getting bored.

The main character is Mark, a tween or young teen boy who starts out the book by running away from home. The reason is not at first apparent to the reader (other than from what is in the book synopsis) but he has a goal and a destination in mind and knows that he probably won't be returning. He takes some money, some supplies and his dog Beau. Back at home are his best friend Jessie and his family. The story unfolds in half chapters -- the full chapter numbers are Mark's first person narrative and the half chapters are about what is going on back home and told in third person, primarily from Jessie's perspective.

I don't want to give away any spoilers yet (see below) but as an adult reader, there were so many times when I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and talk to Mark and Jessie -- to tell him to call his parents and have them come get him and to tell Jessie to tell Mark's parents what she knew. The choices the young characters face and what they decide to do is probably the most important reason for adults to read and talk about this book with their children/students. It would be really interesting to hear what middle-grade readers think of those choices and whether they would make the same choices as the characters.

The strength of this book is that I was emotionally invested in Mark from the very beginning of the book. His personality, his feelings, and most importantly his relationship with his dog and his friend Jessie shine so strongly that you can't help but care what happens to him, to Beau and to Jessie.

For the younger readers for whom this was written, Mark has a lot of adventures -- both good and bad -- on the way to his destination. That action, along with the great character the author has created, keeps this book from turning into the depressing downer I worried it would be. I think it is a must read, both for the target middle grade readers and the adults in their lives.




The elephant in the room with this book, is that Mark has had cancer since he was five and has recently learned that the cancer has returned. This is what sparks his decision to run away. And he isn't just running away. He is running away to climb Mt. Rainier with expectation that he will die on the mountain. This doesn't make it exactly a suicide book because Mark assumes that he is dying already and doesn't want to put himself and his parents through his illness and cancer treatment any more. The interesting thing is that there are several instances along his journey when Mark could have either been killed or chosen to die but at each point he chooses survival and continues trying to reach his goal of reaching the top of Mt. Rainier. And finally one dramatic event makes him affirmatively choose life.

I was reminded throughout the book of the real life story of Brittany Maynard, the young woman with terminal brain cancer, and her decision to end her own life on her own schedule. Again, there is so much in this book for both adults and tweens/young teens.

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