When you tell a story, you shape the truth. What you leave in, what you leave out, every word and every emphasis changes the meaning.
High school sucks. Every day is a battle to fit in, while trying to find a way to stand out. You’re not a kid, but you’re still treated like one. Or, when you’re expected to make mature and responsible choices, you panic, often with disastrous results.
I never fit in with the Preppies (I suspect mainly because of my unruly hair and hopeless fashion sense) but would easily flit between the Jocks, the Nerds and the Shrubs1, depending on the day.
I say “easily,” but that’s mostly a lie. More true is that I had no idea who I was yet, so how could I comfortably fit anywhere?
You’d think it would be different if you were able to attend a school like Green Pastures Academy of Applied Art and Design, where students are encouraged to explore their artistic side and really take the time to find out who they really are.
Nope. Even then it can still suck. Especially if your sister is some bigshot bestselling author whose graphic novel series, The Diana Chronicles, is a barely disguised version of your own family.
Such is the plight of Normandy Pale, would-be author and erstwhile embroiderer. Every day she worries that everyone believes that she is just like the “dull-witted, staring blob” portrayed in her sister’s books.
She has her people, the “chronically attractive” Dusk (real name: Dawn), whose latest art installation involves the taxidermy of small woodland creatures; and Neil, a painter of beautiful women who loves to come to school dressed as 60s and 70s movie stars (think Steve McQueen or Paul Newman).
Together, they decide to form The Truth Commission, to seek out not the truths offered up easily, but rather the ones “lying around, half exposed in the street, like drunken cheerleaders trying to speak.”
But once they get a taste for these confessions, it becomes difficult to stop, despite the inevitable fallout.
We are given an insider’s view of the commission’s evolution, as Norm works on her Grade 11 Spring Special Project, a chronicle of her own replete with footnotes2 and illustrations3. This one, making a not-unfair comparison to the bloodshed that occurs as warring factions attempt to seize power, is one of my favourites:
The battles continue everywhere, be it at school or behind a family’s closed doors.
We bear witness to Norm’s realization that the truth is complicated. And that sometimes those who should defend you will not.
The extremely funny and quietly wise Susan Juby takes us on a journey that shows us the deeper truths too, about narcissists and the scary power they can wield, and how important it is to find the strength to be true to yourself, even when it means going against all that is familiar.
Trust me4, you want to read this book.
Bonus: Flashback to another kind of arts school. I wasn’t allowed to see the movie but I never missed an episode of the TV spinoff.
“You got big dreams, you want fame. Well, fame costs, and right here’s where you start payin’, in sweat…”
- As the main groups were known then. The names may vary over the years but the groups don’t really. Sidenote to the footnote: I didn’t realize before I moved to Ontario that “shrubs” was a VERY regional term. Until I explained, people assumed that I had been such a loser that I’d been forced to make plant-based friends. We determined that Shrubs must be a western cousin of the tribe known as Stoners or Long Hairs.
- While mine are just a feeble attempt at being clever, those in the book itself are hilarious and crucial to the storyline.
- Actually done by the talented Trevor Cooper.
- No? Okay, then, how about these reputable folk? Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Gayle Forman.