Monday, 5 May 2014

All the Truth That's in Me, by Julie Berry

All the Truth That’s in Me is a really extraordinary novel. It’s immensely readable yet quietly intense, a story of communication and love and judgement, and with one of the most unusual but remarkable voices I’ve ever come across, written sort of simultaneously in first and second perspective (‘I’ as well as ‘you’).

It is four years since Judith was abducted, two years since she returned. She cannot speak, half her tongue cut out, and so she cannot tell the town, her mother, her younger brother, what happened to her. She can only watch you, Lucas - the man she’s loved since you were a boy - from a distance and silently pour out her thoughts and fears and dreams.

This is Roswell Station, a settler’s town heavily ruled by the laws of God; it’s a tight community, but one that can easily be shattered. And when three Homelander ships are spied on the horizon, the glass looks set to break: since the fire, there isn’t enough arsenal to properly defend against these raiders. But as the men and boys are summoned to war, Judith remembers: the hut hidden in the hills, the basement where she was kept, the explosives stacked like a wall. And so she does the one thing she never thought she’d do: she returns and makes a bargain: her life for yours.

But this is only the beginning. Because when Judith’s kidnapper reveals himself to the town, a set of events is begun that she could never have predicted, events that dig up the past and shed new light on things people thought they understood. Gradually, in more ways than one, Judith regains her voice. And as Lucas begins to notice, so the town notices him. Conclusions are drawn, traps are set and just as a happy ending seems to be within reach it is snatched away again. Or is it? Can Judith find a way to turn the town’s judgment around?

I really can’t even begin to do justice to this book. It’s a romance and a mystery, the story of a town and of a girl, it’s empowering and tense. It’s written in a timeless sort of way that suggests 17th or 18th century, but reminded me most strongly of the M. Night Shyamalan film, The Village, I think because of the level of purity expected by Roswell Station’s citizens, because the worship, although it runs through the town’s veins like blood, is mostly unspecified.

Julie Berry’s technique of writing in both first and second perspective is something I've never come across before; it's both extremely daring and extremely effective. Additionally, her style of breaking up the four ‘books’ into multiple small chapters makes it exceedingly readable, especially as you just have to find out what will happen next; and the language, the plot building, the characterisation - the everything - is exquisite.

Of all the excellent books on this year's Carnegie Medal shortlist (I’ve currently read five of the eight), this is, so far, the standout title for me. It’s quiet yet has great intent, an amazing voice, every page and twist of the plot explosive; I had no idea how it was going to end, whether things would work or whether the town’s judgments and assumptions would override their humanity. For anyone who thinks that young adult books are all trash, all they need to do is pick up All the Truth That’s in Me.

Will Lucas see Judith? Why does her mother hate her so? What nasty game is teacher Rupert Gillis playing? Who is following Judith, prowling around her house at night? And, perhaps most importantly of all, what really happened to the other missing girl, Lottie? Judith must reclaim her voice, and reclaim what was lost to her and what was lost to you. Truly excellent.

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