I had the chance to talk to Justina Chen briefly before she gave a reading from Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) (2006). She was very cool, grounded and an absolute pleasure to talk to. So, it should be no surprise that her narrator, Patty Ho, is equally enjoyable in every way in Headley’s first novel written for young adults.
Half-Taiwanese and half-white, Patty feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. This fact is confirmed when, instead of going to the last school dance of the year, Patty’s mother drags her to a fortune teller who discerns Patty’s future from her belly button. Things get worse from there when Patty realizes that sometimes dream guys are anything but and finds herself enrolled in Stanford math camp for the summer.
This novel is a classic coming-of-age story. As the plot progresses, Patty learns that sometimes you have to find people like you in order to appreciate the value of being really unique. Now, that might sound a bit pat and cliche–but I can assure you this book is anything but.
Headley writes with a style unlike any authors I’ve read recently. The narration is snappy and spunky–as is fitting for a teenage girl as vibrant as Patty. I also like that Headley doesn’t take the easy way a lot of the time. The story doesn’t follow any typical girl-meets-boy formula. In fact, Headley has quite a few twists thrown in along the way.
It’s also really interesting to read about Patty and her mother. The subject doesn’t often come up in teen literature, where often the characters are immigrants if they are not white. Headley’s dialog between Patty and her mother seems realistic (not being Taiwanese at all I can’t really say). Her incorporation of slang and certain speech mannerisms bring to mind Amy Tan’s writing in The Hundred Secret Senses (another book about a half-asian, half-white character, incidentally). Honestly though, everything in the book is interesting. Even math camp, which some readers will view as warily as Patty does in the beginning, turns out to be a cool environment to read about (with minimal time spent on math in the narrative).
In a lot of reviews you’ll see me complaining that the characters come off as flat. Happily, I can say that is not the case here. Patty and her myriad friends (and enemies too) jump off the page. Furthermore, Headley artfully negotiates Patty’s changing sense of self throughout the novel.
It’s weird to be saying this about a novel that isn’t a thriller, but it was really a page turner. I couldn’t put it down. Headley has a lot to say here about identity and family and self-confidence. All of which she manages like a pro.
The term “new classic” is bandied about a lot for modern books and movies. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Nothing But the Truth is going to get that label if it doesn’t have it already.
Possible Pairings: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood