By Ekta R. Garg
July 20, 2015
Rated: Borrow it
A family along with the other residents of a small town get ready for the town’s sesquicentennial in pre-World War II West Virginia. Once a prominent standard in the town’s society, the members of the family now spend their days trying to live down infamy. When a young society woman joins the town for a summer, truths come out and the family members will do what they can to hold on to the little bit of self-esteem they have left. Author Annie Barrows, co-writer of the lovely novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, goes solo for the mostly sweet book The Truth According to Us.
In Macedonia, West Virginia, Willa decides she doesn’t want to be treated like a child anymore. At the age of 12 she’s old enough to understand what the adults know, and she knows of no reason why the grownups can’t just tell her everything. For instance, why does her aunt, Jottie, get all red in the face when she sees Mr. McKubin?
Jottie has plenty of reasons to blush but no one in her life to receive the blushes and the affection behind them. After a dramatic tragedy took the one boy she’s ever loved, Jottie found a companion in grief in her older brother, Felix. Felix understands Jottie’s pain; her first love was also his best friend, and the three formed a trio that people took for granted. Until the trio lost one of its members.
After a failed marriage, Felix has brought his two daughters home to Jottie. Willa is the elder child, curious about the world, and Bird, her younger sister, revels in her position as the youngest family member. Felix supports the family with his business, although no one really talks about what that business is. Willa has decided she wants to know what her father does and why some people smirk or cross the street when they see Felix coming.
Things get complicated when Miss Layla Beck, daughter of a prominent senator, comes to spend a summer in Macedonia as a boarder in Jottie and Felix’s home. Her arrival upsets the family’s routine—or, at least, that’s what Willa thinks. She notices the way Layla and her father begin to orbit one another like a planet and its moon, and Jottie and the other members of the household try to stay off the collision course. There are many things Willa doesn’t understand, and her father’s attraction to Layla Beck is definitely one of them. But she’s determined to discover the truth of that attraction and everything else the adults want to hide.
Author Annie Barrows captures small-town life in all its glory. The research she highlights in her acknowledgments shines. Barrows shows readers everything from the dialogue of a West Virginian town to the despondency of a nation in the grip of its worst financial crisis. It won’t take readers long to feel like they live right down the street from Willa and her family, thanks to Barrow’s arresting narration.
Some story points might feel a tad cliché. Layla and Felix’s attraction to one another seems like a foregone conclusion from the time Layla enters the house. Bird’s position as younger sister seems to fill a character requirement, nothing more. Even the tragedy that led to the family’s downfall before the story begins feels tried and true.
With Willa, Jottie, and Layla taking turns as narrators, however, Barrows shines in the characters she chooses to develop to the fullest. And in reality the true star of the book is Macedonia itself: the quirks of its residents, the fading hope of those residents in the one major employer left in town, and the revelations that not all small-town stereotypes hold true.
I recommend readers Borrow The Truth According to Us.
(I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased, honest review.)