In early January, I was sick and looking for some literary comfort. I decided to choose something from my over-filled shelves of middle-grade and YA books, but what to choose? I happened to read a Best of2016 list on one of my favorite blogs, Unleashing Readers, that day and so chose a book on Ricki’s list: The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart. It was an excellent recommendation! This tale of adventure is suspenseful but also very moving, with great emotional depth.
Twelve-year old Mark is running away from home. He has obviously planned this out very carefully, with money, a disguise, and his dog, Beau, hidden in his duffle bag. We learn some things about Mark right from the beginning: he likes to take pictures with an old-fashioned camera and he writes haiku, recording his poems in a notebook he carries with him. Soon, though, we learn something else: Mark is very sick. He’s been sick for seven years, and his life throughout that time has focused on his illness. He’s running away to get away from all of it – the doctors, the hospitals, the medicines – but also to achieve his biggest dream, to climb to the top of Mount Rainier. We gradually realize that Mark is doing this now because he thinks he may not get another chance.
Mark is well loved by his parents and his best friend, Jessie. They’ve been friends since they were very young, since before the sickness, and Jessie is very, very worried when she realizes that Mark is gone. He left her a hidden haiku – their favorite mode of communication – so she has an idea of where he’s headed, but she doesn’t want to betray his confidence. The longer Mark is gone, and the more dangerous his journey becomes, the more Jessie agonizes over whether to tell his kind parents (and the police) where he’s going.
It’s a difficult journey that Mark has embarked on, and his illness makes it even more challenging. He’s weak and can’t hold much food down. Along the way, through Seattle and onward to the base of Mount Rainier, Mark meets a lot of people. Some of them are cruel but most of them are kind and compassionate and want to help him. Through it all, Beau is by his side, and Mark is determined to see his mission through.
Chapter alternate between Mark’s journey and what is going on back at home, with Jessie and with his parents and the police, and Mark’s haiku enhances the narrative. Suspense is created not only by whether or not Mark will meet his goal in the face of so many challenges but also by the tension of wondering if the police will find him first. As a reader, you are torn between wanting to root for Mark and wanting him back home, safe, with his family and his best friend. This is an adventure story, with plenty of action and suspense, but it is also a tender, moving story about dealing with serious illness, family, friendship, and loyalty. The Honest Truth is a quick and exciting read that is heart-breaking at times but also heart-warming and insightful.
229 pages, Scholastic Press