Last Thursday the Roehampton Readers assembled for the first time. No, I have not joined the latest hero outfit set to clean up the Surrey streets, but instead have become a member of the Carnegie Shortlist reading group as arranged by my department at university – much cooler…!
Having never been part of a judging panel for anything, I jumped at the chance to read the entire 2014 shortlist and pass judgement. Every week I will review a new Carnegie title (although with the Easter break I shall be playing catch-up and posting two this week) to let you know if there are any crème de la crème’s within the top titles this year.
Julie Berry’s All the Truth That’s in Me was the first on the list.
We came here by ship, you and I.
The UK cover is fairly inoffensive but hardly memorable – I would imagine it would be quite easy to overlook if not for the Carnegie recognition. But as I was always taught not to judge a book by appearance alone, I happily delved into this historic novel filled with guarded secrets, unrequited love and careful silences.
Four years ago two girls disappeared from the town of Roswell Station, only one was lucky enough to come back. Judith Fisher has been haunted by her history ever since and, due to the injury sustained during her imprisonment, has been turned into a pariah by the town she once longed to come home to. Now that her voice can no longer be heard, all Judy can do is watch and silently explore her feelings for the life, wonder at what the future holds, and yearn for the boy she so desires.
I absolutely devoured this book! It is a wonderfully written story about unveiling the darkest secrets of our hearts and having the courage to do so. With similarities to The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible, the world of All the Truth That’s in Me is both historic and modern, relevant and fresh.
I will admit that the story did take a while to get into as Berry’s narrative voice is fairly unique. All the Truth That’s in Me uses the uncommon narrative style of the second person to create an often unseen intimacy between reader and protagonist, one that does need time to develop. But trust me, if you give it that time, it is worth it! To be transported into the inner thoughts of Judith means that the reader experiences the plethora of her emotions almost first-hand due to the vividness of Berry’s writing. The use of incredibly short chapters adds to this sensation as it creates a fluidity throughout, a natural train of thought that jumps from past to present as ideas flash through Judith’s mind.
Though the content in Barry’s novel is quite dark, it is incredibly well-balanced as a mixed novel of romance, historicism, mystery and crime. It deals with issues sensitively and honestly, for through the observing status of the protagonist ideas related to religion, society and marriage are opened up. Societal expectation within Roswell Station creates an environmental pressure cooker that appears to overrule even a mother’s love and the ability to listen to those most vulnerable. Judith, as an outcast, is therefore a brilliantly complex character to view the world through as she fights for a voice in a world of ignorance.
Set in an ambiguous time and location, though alluding to 16th century Puritan America, Judith’s story could be anyone’s. Anyone feeling abandoned, misunderstood or mistreated could use this story as one of hope, a way to find their voice. The world Berry offers through Judith’s eyes gives the novel variety and a freedom as each reader can place the story in a time or location as they see fit. It deals with topics that transcend the need for historical placing – love, loyalty, judgement, courage and prejudice – and I think it is the universality of All the Truth That’s in Me that is one of its most powerful traits.