All of This is True by Lygia Day Penaflor
From Goodreads: Miri Tan loved the book Undertow like it was a living being. So when she and her friends went to a book signing to meet the author, Fatima Ro, they concocted a plan to get close to her, even if her friends won’t admit it now. As for Jonah, well—Miri knows none of that was Fatima’s fault.
Soleil Johnston wanted to be a writer herself one day. When she and her friends started hanging out with her favorite author, Fatima Ro, she couldn’t believe their luck—especially when Jonah Nicholls started hanging out with them, too. Now, looking back, Soleil can’t believe she let Fatima manipulate her and Jonah like that. She can’t believe that she got used for a book.
Penny Panzarella was more than the materialistic party girl everyone at the Graham School thought she was. She desperately wanted Fatima Ro to see that, and she saw her chance when Fatima asked the girls to be transparent with her. If only she’d known what would happen when Fatima learned Jonah’s secret. If only she’d known that the line between fiction and truth was more complicated than any of them imagined. . . .
Thanks Netgalley, for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is one of those books that you’ve heard whispers about, and there’s a bunch of hype, but you don’t really know what the book is about. I’d seen it on Netgalley and requested it out of curiosity, but it wasn’t until I was at the Orphan Monster Spy launch, listening to an agent describe the book to another blogger, that I became eager to read it.
I have to say, I have very mixed feelings about the novel. Part of the problem is most definitely with the e-book ARC I got. The book isn’t straight prose, the way most novels are– instead it is a blend of interview portions [giving us Penny’s and Miri’s perspectives], published diary entries for Soleil’s POV and excerpts from the ‘published’ controversial book written about the characters. Which really appealed to me, except for the fact that my Netgalley copy did this weird thing where it frequently split sentences into one line per page and then I got about six blank pages before the next sentence. There were times when it mixed up the order of lines, such as telling me halfway through the ‘excerpt’ sections that it was an excerpt, by which point it was obvious, and there were two instances where there seemed to be a page missing. No big deal considering there’s usually a couple of teething problems with Netgalley copies, but it was pretty frustrating after a while, and I’d be uncertain about ordering a finished kindle copy since it seems a difficult format for an e-book.
Anyhow, the format was kinda cool, with all the different sections. I liked how it gave you lots of characters’ perspectives of events without doing the usual thing of plain narrative. It was quite important to get all the different views, because each of the characters has a different outlook on the events unfolding in the book. Miri still idolizes the author, while Soleil has distanced herself from the whole thing. Penny’s perspective was perhaps the most interesting– she’s shown as a bit of a ditz, caring more about clothes and looking good and socializing rather than being interested in the author or her work, but she actually has what might be the most intelligent opinion about the whole controversy. She shows a lot of hidden wit in her sections, and she was probably my favourite character by far.
I think what bothered me most about this book is what it could have been. I was interested in seeing how the relationship developed between the author and the students, and I liked the sound of a book which explored the relationship between writer and fans. After all, there’s a sense of responsibility there, a sense that the author has to be careful of how they influence others, and the impression they leave on their readers. It’s a really great concept for a book. Except, here, I think it falls a bit flat. For a start, I didn’t really like how quickly the relationship developed– from what I recall, the author meets them at an event, ends up getting coffee with them and then suddenly she starts inviting them to parties at her house. I know this is probably the dream of many readers obsessed with their favourite authors, but I couldn’t help but cringe a bit. These are meant to be high school kids, and the author is in her mid-twenties. Their parents all know about their relationship, and mostly encourage it despite having never met the author in person, but I’m left thinking that that’s really bad parenting? If I started hanging around with a 24 year-old adult at sixteen or seventeen, my parents might have been okay with it, but they would have definitely insisted on meeting that person first, and might still have been a bit hesitant at the thought of me hanging out in their home. It just didn’t seem all that believable to me. I suppose part of the problem is that I had read the synopsis, and I knew those kids were going to be manipulated, which made me doubt every move she made to appear kind and friendly to them. Which in turn, made me question why they couldn’t see her actions as sketchy too. I guess hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The other problem I had, which is really the same issue, is that the reader finds out pretty much all of the plot at the start of the book, by reading a few pages and reading the synopsis. There’s a couple of twists thrown into the mix, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit let down that it was all over about three chapters in. We find out very early on that Jonah is in a coma, having been attacked by a bunch of guys. Sure, we don’t know why they attacked him exactly but we do know people think it’s the author’s fault because of what she wrote about him. It’s as though All of This is True is trying to be a YA version of The Secret History, since it’s more of a why-dunnit than anything else, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark there. The Secret History was much more satisfying, in my opinion. There was depth to it. This novel, as interesting as the concept was, gave too much away too early on. We knew Fatima had essentially stolen their story and turned it into a novel, using all their secrets and lies. And although there were a few twists, they didn’t leave me reeling in shock. I merely shrugged and turned the page.
I’m giving All of This is True a 6.5/10. I loved the idea of the novel, and I thought with a touch more subtlety it could have opened up a very interesting debate about the role and responsibility of authors to their fans, but overall I thought too much of the plot was given away by the synopsis and the first few chapters.