“In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck is forced out of the lap of luxury and sent by her Senator father to work on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Assigned to cover the history of the little mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, Layla envisions a summer of tedium.
However, once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is completely drawn into their complex world.
At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to acquire her favourite virtues of ferocity and devotion, but her search leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried.
Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family’s veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns and their deep entanglement in Macedonia’s history. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed – and their personal histories completely rewritten.” (randomhouse.com.au)
I think it’s important for me to begin by saying that this is nothing like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, the novel Annie Barrows is listed as a co-author for. So to anyone who loved Guernsey, don’t come into this with overly high expectations and ready to make comparisons because you will be either left disappointed, or unable to read and appreciate the novel for itself.
Myself? Aside from some aspects of the ending, I was not left disappointed. From the opening pages it was easy to imagine myself in the sweltering heat, walking the streets of Macedonia with Willa and her little sister, Bird. At a little over 500 pages, The Truth According to Us may drag for some people, but I didn’t find that to be the case, and I actually had to force myself to read slower.
Through an alternating narrative that switches between the first person, Willa; the third person via Jottie and Layla; and also correspondence between Layla and a variety of people (if alternating narratives aren’t your thing this book might not be for you, but it’s pretty easy to follow what’s happening), Barrows explores the idea of truth and how the facts of a matter vary from person to person. In this instance, we have the perceived truth of an incident as seen by an entire town, at odds with the truth of the same event as seen through the eyes of an individual who has never been able to come to terms with the widely accepted truth.
Along with this, we have Layla exploring the town’s history for the Federal Writer’s Project. Through her research into events dating back to and beyond the Civil War, we soon see that if you believe something for long enough, regardless of the facts it becomes your truth.
The characters carried the story well, and I found the female characters particularly well written, especially Willa. Despite being a child who has a preference for spending entire days reading, she prides herself on being a sneak, and it is through her that we eventually learn the facts of events that had remained hidden for close to two decades.
I found Willa being the catalyst for the truth interesting in itself. On the cusp of adulthood, she is still naive enough to believe things as she sees them, but is old enough ask questions. It is due to her naivety that lies are uncovered, but also through her own deceptions. Through Willa, I was reminded that lying is not something we are born doing, we teach each other to do it.
In terms of the ending I found some aspects of it a little predictable, and I feel like it was a bit happier than it should have been. However there’s probably a message of forgiveness that can be taken from the ending, so in that respect I’m OK with it. But overall I found this to be an enjoyable read that had me questioning the idea of truth in all it’s forms and whether lies can sometimes be justified.