All the Truth That's in Me
“. . . a beautiful love story told in spare, riveting prose.”
The genius of Julie Berry’s young adult novel All the Truth That’s in Me is reminiscent of advice that author Kurt Vonnegut used to give his writing students. He told them “to make their characters want something right away—even if it's only a glass of water.”
Ms. Berry’s indelible heroine wants something so badly from page one of this irresistible new historical novel that readers cannot help but gobble down the subsequent 287 pages.
As the novel opens, the reader learns that 18-year-old Judith has returned to the small community of Roswell Station after mysteriously disappearing two years before. In the meantime, someone has cut out her tongue and—the town assumes—her virtue. Her heart, though, remains stubbornly intact.
Judith’s yearning for Lucas, the farm boy she’s known her whole life, burns brightly enough to illuminate the perils of the claustrophobic world she inhabits.
While the vast majority of new young adult fiction is written in first person, Ms. Berry’s voice for Judith is especially affecting for two unique reasons. Since the character is forbidden by both her inflicted deformity and her scornful mother from speaking, the first person narrative echoes with confession. Not only can the reader hear Judith’s thoughts, but the reader is the only one who can.
Secondly, Ms. Berry makes use of second person whenever her thoughts turn toward Lucas. “I waited all evening in the willow tree, with gnats buzzing in my face and sap sticking in my hair, watching for you to return from town.” The use of “you” for Lucas lends the narrative an epistolary tone that echoes with longing.
The fictional setting may remind readers of the Connecticut village portrayed in Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Judith’s puritanical town is similarly knit. Shadowed by the dangers of war, illness and prejudice, its inhabitants do a fair job of coming together against the first two perils. Too bad for Judith, her trials fall firmly into the third category.
In spite of the community’s historically vivid vulnerabilities, things are steady enough in Roswell station for its young to yearn for love, and take measure of small vanities such as a new dress or a handsome beau.
Peace is shattered when a rival people tries to overtake the town. Judith risks everything to save Lucas, bringing unwelcome attention to herself. And in the way of all successful page-turning fiction, one difficult decision compounds into many others. The town begins to question her true secrets and loyalties. By the final page, a girl with no tongue learns to speak up for herself, in spite of the creepy schoolmaster who “likes a girl who can’t tell tales.”
One of the book’s few frustrations is a lack of familiar historical context. The reader who wishes to search for more information on the historical precedents which informed Ms. Berry’s battle scenes will quickly become frustrated. Her invading “homelanders” lack an ethnic or cultural designation. Aside for a few digs at “papist” pretensions, the political dangers of the time go largely unexplored, even when they affect the plot. But the net effect is to leave the reader wanting more, never less.
All the Truth That’s in Me is that rare magical thing—a beautiful love story told in spare, riveting prose.