Jeff is too awkward, too cowardly, too much of anything that spells social suicide. Much to Jeff’s anxiety, his class is taking a trip to Washington, D.C. What could be worse than sitting next to your ex-best friend who you may or may not have more-than-hostile feelings for, seeing your ex-girlfriend buddy up with a jerk and mentally panicking about the fact that your class’s resident troublemaker (aka your best friend) is planning something huge? Maybe an oncoming asthma attack (which, of course, Jeff is also very prone to).

Sitting still with not a thing to do for six hours straight is something no teenager wants to do and no teacher wants to deal with, so Jeff’s teacher, Mr. Bailey, proposes an idea. There will be a storytelling contest; the person with the best anecdote — fiction or not — earns an A for the entire semester. Anybody would be thrilled…except everybody expects Jeff to win. How can Jeff live up to the fame his one hit wonder story created?

The only question left is: what will Jeff do when things start to fall apart during those painful six hours? Nothing of course. That’s his signature move.

“If you enjoy reading slice-of-life tales, fanfiction or young adult novels, then congratulations, you have found the perfect new book to add to your ‘TBR’ list.”

The summary of SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH is misleading. It implies that all of Jeff’s thoughts will consist of creating the perfect narrative. In fact, Jeff’s character runs deeper than that. He is faced with the cliché “I want to fit in” dilemma but as the book continues, the reader realizes that Jeff is much more relatable than superficial. Haunted by memories, frustrations and regrets that every one of us has experienced at some point, Jeff is a somewhat dim yet interesting character. He obviously has the potential to be a sharp person, yet his need to deny his flaws, feelings and reality in general causes a lack of understanding and perception. He is a fairly narcissistic person who believes his every move is being weighed and calculated, and yet he thinks extremely little of himself. Overall, Jeff’s personality is as contradictory as any reader’s.

SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH does digress from its original summary, but I have no serious complaints about this because the end result is so much better than I thought it would be. At first, it seemed like the book was over before it started. Classmates who are practically strangers will end up confessing deeply private secrets and will emerge as the best of friends forever. It has the ring of a Breakfast Club type of story. As I said, this was not how the book progressed, but this small disappointment soon gave way to relief.

Zarins leaves plenty of room for curiosity as she retells The Canterbury Tales, satisfying the hunger of eager bookworms and even occasional readers. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have multiple narratives in one story? Well, whether you have or have not there is no doubt when I say that the result is simply amazing! Of course, with great narration comes loose ends and although I would have loved to read more about each classmate, it is important to note that Jeff’s story felt complete. If you enjoy reading slice-of-life tales, fanfiction or young adult novels, then congratulations, you have found the perfect new book to add to your “TBR” list. Fans of GUTLESS, SAVING GRACE and other novels involving battles of character v. self will definitely be glad to read about Jeff and his classmates. Everybody is, has been or will be an average young adult trying to get by in life and the characters we meet in Mr. Bailey’s civics class are no exception.

Posted by Andrew James

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