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The Truth According To Us by Annie Barrows

This is a story about the writing of history. The Truth According To Us takes place in 1938 in a fictional West Virginia mill town called Macedonia. It takes place at the height of the Great Depression, which makes the story all the more epic, complete with the fixings of a great story set in the south. The family in question are the Romeyns, who were (and to some degree still are) a prominent family in Macedonia. But as the story unfolds, it is clear that there is a dark past.

Willa Romeyn is a twelve-year-old amateur sleuth…well, at least when it comes to her family. Smart, charming, inquisitive, Willa is constantly eager to uncover secrets about the adults in her life so for most of the book you’ll find her sneaking around; she feels she will be able to connect better with people she shares secrets with. And everyone seems to have a secret.

Willa lives with her aunt and mother figure Jottie and a cavalcade of others including her sister Bird. When her father Felix is not out doing whatever it is that he does, he too resides in the home. But, this summer there’s a new twist.

Layla Beck, is spoilt, and pretty, and the daughter of a Senator, who has been exiled from her father’s house and has to take a job working for the Works Progress Administration (secretly run by her uncle Ben), a job that involves writing the town’s history. This is how she comes to be a boarder at the Romeyns.

When she arrives begrudgingly, she quickly finds that this is going to be far from the dreary job she had previously thought it was going to be. Instead, intrigue, scandal and romance all come with the package.

“I think, dear, that I am learning – finally – what it is like to care more for someone than for myself, and what it is to be cared for. He watches over me, so quiet and calm, so generous and forgiving of wrongs.”

Things are starting to heat up as Layla is inevitably charmed by Willa’s father, Felix. But that doesn’t seem to surprise anyone. Felix always seems to get what he wants. A bit of a player, a bit mysterious, Felix seems to live a double life…and Willa is bound to find out what it is.

Willa is immediately threatened by Layla, because she’s hell bent on having her father’s affection all to herself. She loves her aunt Jottie too, who also seems to be over-protective of her niece. Jottie has her own secrets. Vause Hamilton was the love of her life, but now he’s dead -- a fire in the mill killed him. Was it an accident? Or was it intentional?

“So the story wasn’t over. No story ever really is.”

I loved learning the way history is written. As Layla researches the factual verses fictitious accounts from Macedonia’s residents, she discovers how there is an expectation to write history in a way that shines the community in a positive light: one that highlights the great families with a Panglossian view of the community. And as she grows more fond of the Romeyns she starts to question her own vested interest in waxing poetically about the family rather than telling the truth. But, luckily she decides to stick to her guns, and dig for the truth. The Truth According To Us made me think more about history that I learnt from books. Who wrote them? Were they swayed to lean one way or the other. Certainly a dilemma for me, one that I will now question every time I read something in history. After all, it is said that history is written by the victors. Is it "history" or "his story"?

Reading The Truth According To Us is like simmering in a slow crockpot. Annie Barrows has a deliberate pace that keeps us engaged and reading on, as she reveals secrets meticulously. Reading the book is like living the expansive life she meant to convey in her book. Her characters are so beautifully constructed, each one with his or her own flaws. It is easy to fall in love with the world of Annie Barrows’ 1938 Macedonia and believe that it actually happened.



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Blog post by @ShilpaRaikar (Creative and Social Media strategist, decor enthusiast and book lover, who also writes for a branding blog: thinkblink.ca/blog, as well as a lifestyle blog: sukasastyle.com T: @SukasaStyle) 

The Truth According To Us is published by Random House Canada, a Penguin Random House Company www.penguinrandomhouse.ca  

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