Title: Tell Us Something True
Author: Dana Reinhardt
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Seventeen-year-old River doesn’t know what to do with himself when Penny, the girl he adores, breaks up with him. He lives in L.A., where nobody walks anywhere, and Penny was his ride; he never bothered getting a license. He’s stuck. He’s desperate. Okay… He’s got to learn to drive.
But first, he does the unthinkable — he starts walking. He stumbles upon a support group for teens with various addictions. He fakes his way into the meetings, and begins to connect with the other kids, especially an amazing girl. River wants to tell the truth, but he can’t stop lying, and his tangle of deception may unravel before he learns how to handle the most potent drug of all: true love.
General Thoughts | Non Spoiler
This book is full on, kinda cheesy, quirky YA goodness. Seventeen-year-old, beige protagonist with a weird name? Check. Unrequited love? Check. Develops crush on “out there” character with piercings and tattoos who doesn’t care what people think? Check. Heartache over estranged parent? Check. The only thing it’s missing is a supernatural love triangle. Yeah, a lot of it made me groan and struck me as slightly problematic, but there were also some glimpses of a great novel in there, such as discussions of race and privilege and relationships. Like John Green, but readable.
Full Review | Contains Spoilers
I’m really stuck on how to review this novel, because I honestly can’t decide if I liked it or not. It was probably the sort of book I would have loved five years ago, but now I’m sort of on the fence. As I said in the General Thoughts section, Tell Us Something True is about as ~alternative~ YA as you can get, and that works both in and against Reinhardt’s favour at times. A lot of it was good, a lot of it was bad, and a lot of it was very bad — but some of it is possibly brilliant.
The protagonist, River Dean, is what I would call a Nice Guy. You know, the kind who is really friendly to a girl, expecting a sexy cookie in return, and then complains about being friend-zoned, and is therefore not really nice at all? I wasn’t sure if the reader was supposed to like him or not to start with, and reading from his first person narrative only furthered my confusion. I certainly didn’t relate to him; everything about him screamed John Green (which is a very bad thing for me). If we’re supposed to dislike him, then Tell Us Something True is really quite good, but if we’re supposed to root for him (and the whole thing isn’t tongue-in-cheek satire), it changes the whole tone of the novel to something that kinda left a bad taste in my mouth.
One thing I really liked about the book was its discussion of serious themes such as race and white privilege. It starts quite innocently with exchanges such as the following:
“The bus?” I asked. “Really? But nobody takes the bus in L.A.”
“White people don’t,” she said. “Mexicans do.”
I felt that Nordic curse rise in my cheeks. Why was I such a clueless asshole?
“I mean… What I meant… I meant to say…”
“You meant to say that you don’t ride the bus and neither do your friends because you all have cars.”
Through his friendship with Daphne (and the other youngsters in the group), I feel like River begins to acknowledge his privileged stance in society simply by being born white and with money, and starts to see that other people have problems far worse than being dumped, by both your girlfriend and your biological father. The development of his character is one of the books redeeming qualities for me.
One thing I didn’t like was the very blatant juxtaposition of River’s two love interests. On one hand we have Penny, the ex-girlfriend, who is white, rich, and kinda boring — she literally has no personality, even in the flashbacks River has when we’re supposed to see her through his rose-tinted lens. On the other hand, we have Daphne, the pierced and tattooed serial shoplifter who says what she thinks and sees deep into your soul. They’re as opposite as two sides of one coin, but the comparison wasn’t handled delicately enough for me to have the right effect, for Daphne in particular. Of course it makes sense that Penny is kinda sheltered and that Daphne has a very different and more scathing view of the world, but I didn’t like how Daphne was treated almost with an exoticism-kink. As a stand-alone character, she’s fantastically multi-faceted, but we only ever see her as River’s love interest and I don’t think her full potential was reached.
I also thought the writing style was very accomplished, as it didn’t make me cringe the way other YAs do (apart from the occasional references to slightly-offbeat pop culture scattered here and there). I found it very easy to read quickly without stumbling over rhythms and words, while still absorbing all the information I needed to, and some of the philosophical dialogue was slightly thought-provoking. That being said, the novel seemed to come to one philosophical conclusion overall, before totally disregarding it at the last second, and I would have preferred Reinhardt to be more decisive about what she was trying to say with the book.
All in all, this book isn’t bad at all, and it’s miles ahead of other novels in its genre. For me personally, I would have liked a little more discussion of the more serious themes, and I still can’t decide whether I’m meant to have read it ironically or not, hence the rather low rating. However, I did enjoy reading it, it provoked a reaction in the reader, and I wouldn’t say no to reading more of Reinhardt’s work.
Have you read Tell Us Something True?
*I borrowed this edition of Tell Us Something True by Dana Reinhardt from my friend Cait, who received it as an advanced copy.