October 19, 2011

The Whole Truth

by Kit Pearson
HarperCollins Canada
978-1-55468-852-4
261 pp.
Ages 9+
2011

Hidden away is the truth.  But whose truth?  Which truth?  All ten-year-old Polly knows are the rules, as itemized by her fifteen-year-old sister, Maud, about what she should or shouldn't do regarding their father.  She's not to tell anyone what happened; she's not to think about Daddy or what happened; she's not to trust anyone but Maud; she needs to be brave; and she must be well-behaved with her new guardian, a grandmother they don't know, and other family.  That's a tall order for a young girl in 1932, displaced from her home in Winnipeg to Kingfisher Island off the B.C. coast, moving in with strangers, missing her dad terribly, and soon to lose her sister to a private school in Victoria.

Polly tries so hard to follow the rules.  Luckily her new family i.e., grandmother Noni, Great Aunt Jean and Great Uncle Rand, and their son Uncle Gregor, embraces them with much love, understanding, and a very comfortable lifestyle.  Still following the rules, Polly takes comfort in writing letters, which she hides, to her father.  But nothing ever stays the same, even the truth as she has been told it.

When bits of the truth about her father are revealed, and then Polly takes on another truth that she hides from almost everyone, she finally recognizes the subjectivity of truth and its nebulous nature.

Kit Pearson takes us into the 1930's when, still reeling from the stock market crash and the consequent depression, families were forced to make difficult decisions and separation was not unusual. But life on the fictional Gulf Island seems less trying, particularly for Polly's wealthy grandmother, perhaps reflective of the smaller community and relative isolation from cities with their higher populations and few jobs.  As such, Polly often feels conflicted regarding their meager existence in Winnipeg with their father compared to their rich life (both in experiences and financially) without him, another truth that may or may not be accepted.

Although Polly's revelation on the last page about the nature of truth seemed somewhat pat to this reader, I needed to remind myself that truth can be what we need it to be and, for a young girl dealing with family secrets and disappointments, Polly reconciled the truth about truth for herself alone.

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