I kick-started my Carnegie Award reading with Julie Berry’s ‘All the Truth That’s in Me’ and initially thought I was in for a disappointing beginning, but by the end of the novel I was able to appreciate why this was a real contender.
Set in American in an unspecified past era, where religion determines lifestyles and attitudes, Judith Finch suffers a horrific tragedy when she is abducted and only released when her tongue has been cut out to ensure she can never tell of her two-year captivity.
I’ll keep it short as it’s difficult to review this without giving too much away, but initially Berry’s novel seems a bit directionless; is it a love story, coming of age novel, a murder mystery…? At times it attempted to be all three, and this genuinely felt a little claustrophobic in terms of understanding what we were supposed to think and feel. At times, it became difficult to figure out which character or event was being referred to, but this eased up and became clearer throughout. I think what didn’t help with this were the (somewhat pointless) chapter divisions; a double page spread could contain up to six chapter breaks, a bit excessive and unnecessary when the story was (for the most part) chronological, making the divisions somewhat arbitrary.
However, in content this book goes from shaky beginnings to obvious strengths, in how it reveals our ignorance in accepting reality for what is in front of us, instead of delving into the truth behind Judith’s mutilation and her allegedly ‘ruined’ status. It’s always fascinating to have your own perspectives challenged, particularly living in such a liberal world; to live in a community where a victim can receive such hostile treatment (in terms of Judith and her love interest Lucas) is unfathomable, and yet prejudice like this still exists and it’s important to remember that not everyone is as fortunate as you are.
The interweaving characters were often interesting in their own right, and yet underused; I loved the outright friendship and simplicity of Maria Cartwright, and enjoyed seeing Darrel learn, through his sister Judith’s silent compassion and sense of duty, that people should be evaluated on what they do, not what they cannot do through misfortune.
In all, this is a strong contender for this year’s award; its unique handling of fairly adult themes being distanced from us in terms of time and culture allows us to gain a perspective on moral issues and strengths and question our own treatment of the world around us.