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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Whole Truth, written by Kit Pearson. Harper, 2011. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"When he was asleep, he looked innocent, but as soon as he woke up he would race around and steal Polly's underwear and bark at all the new things he didn't understand, like Mrs. Hooper sweeping the floor or Noni's umbrella. Puppies were a lot of work! And they weren't as perfect as Polly had imagined. She had to keep trying to wear Tarka out so he would sleep and give the household some peace."

Winner of the 2012 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award and the CLA award for Book of the Year for Children, this is mostly Polly's story, although it certainly gives voice to her sister Maud, her maternal grandmother Noni, her aunt, uncle and cousin, her new friends on Kingfisher Island, and even her father. Each has an important role to play in the events of Polly's life and the path that she is on.  

She is only nine when she boards a train in Winnipeg on her way to the gulf islands with her older sister. They are accompanied by her grandmother's friend and are going to live there, following the death of their father by drowning. It's a dramatic change for all involved.

It's the Depression and money has been tight for the girls and their father. He struggles to find work, and is then accused of stealing from his new place of work. In despair, he drowns himself. He leaves a note asking that his children be cared for by their surviving grandmother, his mother having died earlier. Noni has kept in touch with the girls since their own mother died, and is only too happy to welcome them to her island home.

It is a struggle to adjust to their new life. Soon, Maud is sent to a private boarding school in Victoria and Polly is more alone than she has ever been. The girls are trying to forget their painful past as they forge a new life in an unfamiliar place, with people they have never met. They have promised each other that they will never share the circumstances of their father's death.

There is history and mystery, joy and sorrow, poverty and wealth, racism and acceptance. It is a story about love and loss, truth and lies, friendship and alienation. Maud loves her new school, finds religion and soon doesn't want to come back to the island unless absolutely necessary. Those changes that come with growing up are disconcerting to her younger sister, and lead to them not sharing the close-knit relationship they once had.
The dark secrets eventually come out; their father is not dead. He comes to visit the girls and they have very different reactions to this visit. Polly is delighted, stealing food and hiding him in a house in the woods. Maud is not happy to see him, believing that he did steal the money. Can it be true?

Kit Pearson has created characters worthy of our attention, an island setting that allows exploration and freedom, and a chain of events over a passage of time that heralds change for everyone involved:

"The truth - the whole truth, at last - was as deep as the sea around her. People were complicated. Daddy wasn't totally good, after all. Neither was Noni, neither was Maud. And Alice, it turned out, wasn't totally bad. She, Polly, was complicated, too. That meant she could love Daddy even though he had disappointed her."

As we leave her, we know that Polly has promised to attend St. Winifred's in Victoria for one year, to give it a try and see how she feels about being away from the people and the island she has come to love. Today, I am eagerly awaiting a copy of And Nothing But the Truth (Harper, 2012) to see how Polly fares in her time off the island and at her new school. I will keep you posted!

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