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Sunday, November 17, 2013

All the Truth That's In Me, written by Julie Berry. Viking, Penguin. 2013. $19.00 ages 14 and up

"To say nothing is an answer
of a kind.
To answer is another.
To lie could protect you.
Would you believe what you
wanted to?
To tell the truth would make me
loathsome in your eyes.
Even more than I already am.
I pledged to give you all the truth
that's in me."

Julie Berry certainly doesn't need another positive review for her remarkable new novel. But, I need to tell you how much I loved reading it. So, here I am.

There is only one thing that Judith has ever wanted...Lucas. Their families arrived in America on the same boat, and Judith did nothing but stare at him throughout the long and arduous voyage. That is what her mother has told her. So much has happened in the intervening years, and still she loves only Lucas.

The entire novel reads as a letter written to him. They live in a small puritan community, and a traumatic event has caused the people of Roswell Station to totally ignore her. Judith disappears from their community for two years, and when she returns she can not tell people where she has been. Someone has cut her tongue out. If that is not harrowing enough, even her own mother treats her as a servant and will not speak her name.

Because she cannot speak for herself, the people around her act as if she cannot hear and assume that she is simple. Judith has many secrets; she shares none of them. Instead, she watches everything that is happening around her. She is smart. She is compassionate. She does what is expected of her at home. When she hears that Lucas is to be married, her heart breaks but she treats his future wife with kindness. Eventually, they become good and supportive friends.

As she recounts her life and its events, we begin to unravel the mystery of her disappearance. She alludes to her time away throughout the telling. While we are aware of the time in history, the treatment of those who did not meet the expectations or obey the rules of the puritanical townspeople, the dreadful rejection of her own mother, and the innuendo and lies that could result in degrading public punishment, we are constantly focused on the distinct and unforgettable characters who people its pages. We revile them, or we agonize with them.

"Poor Lucas. No one wants to see a neighbor publicly
shamed at meeting. If I could, I would read you Darrel's
book about the French girl. There's a lesson in it for would-
be heroes. The people you save won't celebrate you. They'll
gather the wood and cheer while you burn."  

Judith's voice is so beautifully fashioned that the reader cannot help but feel what she is feeling; all of the longing, loneliness, shame, regret, anguish, determination, love.

"I feel you beside me, strengthening me.
I will speak, though my sounds are crude. I will use words
long denied to me, with no apology for how corrupt they
sound. My listeners will hear what they choose to hear."

Nothing is certain until the final page is read...and as has happened before, I did not want to turn that page and have this wondrous read come to an end. Extraordinary!

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