The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows
Penned by the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is Annie Barrows solo adult fiction debut (she also pens the children’s series Ivy and Bean). Written in a tradition reminiscent of Guernsey, this novel is set in 1938 Macedonia, West Virginia. More than just a historical fiction novel, Truth blends history, mystery, and romance in an unforgettable, heart-wrenching tale.
Written in a style that combines the traditional novel with the epistolary novel, The Truth According to Us opens to Layla Beck’s struggle to get out of a marriage desired by her parents. In retaliation, Layla’s father, Senator Grayson Beck, disowns her and makes his brother, Ben, find a place for Layla on his Federal Writer’s Project with the idea it would make Layla realize her mistake. Layla is then sent to Macedonia where she boards with the Romeyn family while writing the town’s history. The household is headed by Jottie, the oldest sister in the family. She cares for her nieces, Willa and Bird, whose father, Felix, is often away. They are joined by Jottie’s twin sisters, Mae and Minerva. Younger brother, Emmet, and Sol McKubin are frequent visitors that play a key role in the final outcome.
Layla is first frustrated with her new life, but soon becomes invested in the town as she meets its inhabitants and learns Macedonia’s colorful history. She also falls for Felix, a known charmer, much to his family’s dismay. This causes Willa to intensely dislike Layla. Willa also decides that at age twelve, she needs to learn more about her father’s frequent absences and discovers more than she initially realizes. Meanwhile, Jottie cares for all those under her care while pining for Vause Hamilton, her first love who was killed in the fire which also destroyed her family’s mill and reputation. As way turns into way, each sees one version of the truth, not realizing it is not what it seems and together they piece together the long-buried overarching truth. When it comes out in the heartbreaking climax, readers cannot help but to feel the women’s pain.
Readers cannot help but to relate to Layla, Jottie, and Willa, the novel’s narrators. While initially bitter about being case out, Layla turns her downfall into her triumph through hard work. However, that is tempered by a shock towards the book’s end. Anyone who has lost a loved one can relate to Jottie’s constant feelings of loss and wonder of what could have been. And Willa’s childhood thoughts, jealousies, and rivalries should be familiar to all from our own childhood; if not, times have changed with technology from those freer past days. Each woman in her own way tugs at the reader’s heart. However, I will say sometimes when the perceptive switched from one of these women to the other, it may take several paragraphs to realize who is narrating that section.
Looking at the social issues, the Depression is addressed through many great examples. Layla visits the wrong side of the tracks in her search for Macedonia’s history, proving not all living conditions were bearable. The American Everlasting Hosiery Company is the main factory in town, on whom the late Romeyn patriarch was once president, demonstrates the struggle of workers to unionize and receive fair wages. And the Federal Writer’s Project was a real way to employing people to help them make ends meet during the Depression and reader’s will earn a bit about how that project worked. Lastly, since West Virginia was still a dry state in the late 1930s, bootlegging is also addressed.
As mentioned this novel has parallels to Guernsey. In both cases a lead female (or in Guernsey‘s case sole lead female) are writers; in this Layla penned a book while in Guernsey Juliet was a newspaper columnist planning to write a book. Both also feature humorous letters and banter between characters (Guernsey is completely written as correspondence). Reader best not read this in public since their will be times for laughter and beaming smiles to match the story. In each, there are multiple love stories that come slowly and tenderly and a child who needs loving guidance. And lastly, both make readers feel like they belong in the community portrayed. While this was a wonderful read and I could hardly put it down, I still like Guernsey the best! I do have a review of that I wrote last year but have never gotten around to posting, so look for that soon.
I received an advanced readers copy of this novel from Penguin Random House’s Library Marketing Division for review. The Truth According to Us will be released on 6/9/15.*
Do you think you will read this novel? Have you read Guernsey? If so, what might you expect to see in this new novel?
*Pushed back a week from 6/2/15.