Title: The Truth Commission (2015)
Author: Susan Juby
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 320 pages
Review: So first things first: This book turned out completely differently to what I was expecting, and I’m still not entirely sure why. We start with Normandy Pale, a girl studying at a private art school in Canada. She and her two best friends form The Truth Commission, basically a club where they ask people for the truth and hope those people answer. Thrown into the mix is Keira, Normandy’s sister, who is a very famous and successful graphics artist and has just returned home. Keira has been acting weird, and it seems like something has happened…
The Truth Commission starts off easy, light-hearted and fun. It’s styled as if it’s Normandy’s personal essay, complete with footnotes and illustrations that supposedly add spark to the writing. The footnotes I’m not a big fan of (there are just too many of them, they’re quite distracting and they often don’t actually add anything to the main plot line), but the illustrations are adorable. The illustrations I can get behind.
Now, I didn’t connect with any of the characters, not even Normandy. I sympathise with her to be sure—I can only imagine how hard it is to have a really successful sibling—but I didn’t really like her. I found her a bit irritating, in fact, and I didn’t connect with her on any of the important levels. I was frustrated with her when she didn’t want to know the truth about Keira, because how could she not? If something happened to someone I know (and supposedly care about)that made her act weird, I’d surely want to know as soon as possible, even if it’s scary. Not knowing is the scary part, at least for me.
I also found her to be a bit of a coward, especially in comparison to her two best friends, Neil and Dusk, and that irritated me because I’m just not sure what the big deal is and why Norm’s so hesitant on doing the things her friends asked her to do. When what little romance in this book finally surfaced, I felt that it was almost completely unnecessary, and I think at this point I’d just prefer if it didn’t have any at all. The one that was there was barely a shadow and felt like it was just chucked in to fit the expectations of a YA novel. It didn’t warrant the few pages that were devoted to it.
Also, I don’t often make mention of editing, but I spotted too many errors in this book that detracted from my enjoyment of it. A few times a character would say “Here, here” in agreement to something someone else said, but this is supposed to be “Hear, hear”. “Here, here” may be a common misspelling, but that’s exactly why the book felt a bit poorly edited to me.
Lastly, I found the pacing to be slow for about 2/3 of the book, and it’s only in the last 1/3 that things actually started becoming really interesting. Because of this, the ending didn’t feel like a natural end of the story to me—it just felt deeply unsatisfying and unnerving. There were so many things that could have been explored further, particularly Norm’s relationship with her sister.
While I understand that Juby might want to be as realistic as she can and not tie up certain loose ends, I think that only works when there’s still some sort of an acceptable resolution, which I didn’t get from The Truth Commission. Norm gave up too easily on her parents and Keira got away with way too much. In real life, I kind of believe (or hope) that other people would step up in Norm’s place and do what actually needs to be done. As it is, the book made it feel black and white.
So why the three stars? Despite my reservations, I actually enjoyed the first half of The Truth Commission. It was comedic, casual and conversational, with adorable illustrations I liked. It’s also a unique idea. No one can say that Juby just grabbed select cliches from the YA tropes list and go on working a story around those tropes. No, this one is original.
I guess the main big thing is that The Truth Commission took me by surprise. I’m not the best at guessing plot twists, admittedly, but this book is a bit of a Teacups ride at the theme park. You start off kinda slow, then the cups start spinning you around so quickly, and when you’re done, you’re left with this woozy, sick feeling in your belly. In other words: not a lot of novel actually left a deep, lasting impression on me—this one did.