January 17, 2015

The Almost Truth

by Eileen Cook
Simon Pulse
248 pp.
Ages 14+

Sadie has big plans.  Now that she's finished high school, she's determined to leave her trailer park life on Bowton Island and head to Berkley to study architecture.  Although she's most upset about leaving her best friend, the very hot Brendan, she's been saving her money–often from small cons she pulls, as learned from her father who is currently in jail–and finally has enough.  That is, until her mother, a hotel maid who is always pinching pennies, guiltlessly tells Sadie that she took it for Dad's lawyer.  (Nice parents, eh?)

A poster of a three-year-old child, Ava McKenna, who went missing 15 years earlier gives Sadie an idea for a con that would help her get the money she needs for school.  The wealthy McKenna family who is offering $250,000 for information about Ava's disappearance from the island is slated to attend a big fundraising event for their McKenna's Children's Foundation and Sadie, with Brendan's help and information she gleans from hotel staff, devises a way to get close to the family.

While working to insinuate herself close to Chase Parker, the young man in charge of organizing the charity event, Sadie finds herself at a crossroads with Brendan and navigating her own family obstacles, including her mother who has difficulties with the truth.
For years I thought I was going crazy, since I didn't remember all these things, but then I realized she just made them up.  Cut out any parts of her life she didn't like and squished in a new and better memory to fill the gap. (pg. 59)
The mystery of what happened to little Ava becomes wrapped up in Sadie's desire to know herself better, though she's running from Brendan and can't trust her parents to think about anyone but themselves.

Though the reader might be chagrined by some too-obvious coincidences, the story of Ava McKenna's disappearance is a true mystery that is not solved until the very end, so don't be so sure that you've got the whole truth at any time before then.  Often the truth is tailored for those receiving it and can be interpreted far too many ways.  The Almost Truth makes it clear that sometimes the truth is hidden by a strong desire to make that truth a reality, rather than as a result of omission or outright lies.  But when untruths are piled upon untruths by different parties, it is vey difficult to discern the truth under the burden of imagined realities.  

Having previously reviewed Eileen Cook's Unraveling Isobel (Simon Pulse, 2012), I knew I could expect a well-crafted plot that involved some mystery, romance and teen angst, but I was impressed by the depth of the plotting in The Almost Truth.  While I wondered why Sadie could not see how much Brendan cared for her–I suspect that this is not unusual among teens–and I was convinced that the solution to Ava's disappearance was obvious, I soon realized that there was much more to the story.  And that's because Eileen Cook has established characters who choose to see circumstances that work best with their own interpretations and that become their reality.  They're not living lies, at least they don't all know they are, but they're working with the reality they see.  It can be confusing and sometimes you want to shake one of them and yell, "Don't you see it?" but it wouldn't do any good.  The Almost Truth demonstrates that sometimes the almost truth is the only truth there is, until one person pulls out a single truth that allows the burden of imagined realities to collapse.

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