Bentley’s Grade: A
Title: All of this is True
Author: Lygia Day Peñaflor
Publisher and Date: HarperTeen 2018
Page Length: 418
Genre: YA Fiction
After the book reading, Miri, Penny, Soleil, and Jonah not only manage to meet Fatima Ro, but they also receive a personal invitation to the author’s upcoming book talk. In the weeks that follow, the four friends form a bond with Fatima, a bond that allows for intimate conversations, and the sharing of what Fatima calls “genuine human connections.” But when Jonah becomes the victim of an attack sparked by the publication of Fatima’s second novel, Miri, Penny, and Soleil head to the press each with the intention of telling her own version of what really happened during their time with the famous author.
Third time’s the charm. Three reviews in, and I can finally rave about a book! I’ve had to pare this down quite a bit because I was going on and on and on about all the great elements of All of this is True, but you don’t want to read an essay, right? No, I thought not.
All of this is True is a well-crafted novel complete with great dialogue and a creative plot that asks you to consider some heavy questions. Composed of interviews, texts, emails, and excerpts from Fatima Ro’s second book, the novel is a very quick read. A fun aside: when you remove the jacket, you find an interesting surprise down the spine; a nod, perhaps, to that old adage “never judge a book by its cover”—which is fitting, considering the novel’s themes.
I am elated to tell you that the plot has nothing do with a dead or missing teenager and their angst-filled wannabe detective friends; instead, four teenagers befriend an author who, desperate for a story, encourages the teens to trust her with their inner-most secrets. The author/teen friendship(?), if it can be called that, leaves me with many thoughts; for example, is it enough for an author to merely change the names of the people whose stories she fictionalizes? Does artistic freedom permit the author to draw on the personal lives of the people she is closest to? In regard to the novel, does Fatima absolve herself in the act of rewriting the story? I don’t know. I feel rather conflicted by it all.
“Knowing the weight of her grief in pounds, Fatima had a revelation that grief could be contained. It could be purged and then revised to make sense, and it could be contained” (22).
The novel uses multiple points of view to tell the story, and while this technique is not new, it’s the characters’ voices that deserve recognition. Each character’s voice is distinct, and even without the headings it’s clear who the speakers are. The dialogue never feels forced or overdone. I became quite invested in these characters, which is surprising, since I wasn’t able to connect with the characters in the previously reviewed novels.
Because each POV presents a slightly different version of the event, you find yourself questioning your instincts and what you believe to be true about the story; the effect is perfect as you are left wondering what is true, or whether all of it is true. How do you know? Are Miri’s and Penny’s video-recorded testimonies any more reliable than Soleil’s journal entries, or Fatima’s novel? How reliable are witness testimonies? In a way, the novel’s structure reminds me of a court case; Peñaflor gathers and assembles all the evidence, and we, the readers, are the jury, left to decide who is ultimately responsible for Jonah’s attack, and if Jonah has been absolved for his crime. But despite the many questions this novel brings to the surface, the one that I think is at the very core of the novel asks if it is, in fact, possible to rewrite yourself. I’m not sure if it is possible, but I do like the idea of absolution through the written word.
I know I said you wouldn’t see too many As, but All of this is True deserves it. When discussing theories of the novel, Margaret Atwood says “the main rule is hold my attention,” and I’m sure your attention will be held just as much as mine was. So go grab a copy, and settle in for a grade A read.