No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, October 23, 2014

2014/36: All the Truth that's In Me -- Julie Berry

What do I care if it’s shocking? I am shocking. What was done to me was shocking. I am outside the boundaries for ever, no longer decent. I will leave grapes for you in your own home.

This is a novel for young adults (it was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal) set in Puritan revolutionary America, somewhere in New England. Four years ago, two girls went missing from the small town of Roswell Station: two years ago, Judith Finch stumbled home, unable to speak of what had happened to her. Half her tongue had been cut out.

Judith, the narrator of this novel, is forced to silence, but she observes those around her with a keen eye. The townsfolk eye her askance: they believe that she was abducted and abused by a stranger, and they punish her for her perceived impurity. There's no pity here. “You’re only alive because you’ve got no tongue,” he says. “Otherwise you’d be punished for adultery." Judith alone knows the truth of what happened to her, and to Lottie Pratt whose naked body washed up in the river. And she's unable to tell anyone: unwilling, too, to recount her story, even if she could.

The novel is effectively a love letter to Lucas Whiting, the boy who Judith loved before she – before. Though much of the narrative is first-person, we never lose sight of the 'you' to whom it's addressed. Lucas isn't as suspicious of Judith as most of the townsfolk are: her own mother regards her as a nuisance, a disturbance, and never shows any warmth. (She seems to blame Judith for her father's death, which occurred while Judith was missing.) Judith's brother Darrel, though initially falling in with their mother's opinion, grows up over the course of the novel, and begins to share his books with her. Judith is especially taken with the story of Joan of Arc: '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.' Another ally is Maria, Lucas' fiancee, who befriends Judith and helps her to reclaim her voice.

Which would be a novel in itself: silenced women, female friendship, unrequited love. But there's more. When Roswell Station is attacked, Judith realises that there is only one man who can help defend the town: her captor, who lives in a hidden cave in the woods …

Often poetic and sometimes very moving -- especially when Judith speaks out to the assembled townsfolk -- All the Truth That's In Me is a complex story told in an unusual voice, with excellent pacing and just enough information to keep the reader guessing about what might have happened to Judith.

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