This author has Talent with a capital T.
Everyone knows it takes a lot of talent to write a novel, but what takes even more talent is writing a novel that modernizes one of the most important stories in the English language and doing so in a way that makes every character feel unique and special. Because that’s right: when Kim Zarins wrote Sometimes We Tell The Truth, not only did she modernize the Canterbury Tales by giving the stories to a bunch of high schoolers, but she also wrote 24 unique character voices. And the best part? She does it flawlessly.
Brief Premise: On a bus trip to Washington, DC, Mr. Bailey, the civic’s teacher, proposes that each student tell a story to the class. It doesn’t have to be true, but it has to be made up on the spot. The winner with the best story gets an automatic A. Our narrator, Jeff Chaucer, leads us through the stories, offering insight into his own life, and we get this beautiful character development arc in this 6 hour bus trip where we see Jeff completely evolve, thanks to the stories he hears– and tells himself.
If you’ve ever read the Canterbury Tales, the stories are very familiar, but they’re all modernized to suit those telling them: teenage kids. They’re just as raunchy as Chaucer’s originals– and let me tell you, Zarins nails teenagers and teenage humour– and although each story is “fictional,” it’s very apparent that each story actually reveals a lot of truth about the person telling it. Hence, the title– even if fiction, sometimes we do tell the truth.
As I mentioned before, the great feat of this novel is not the stories, but the character voices. Each one shines through, completely different from the last. Sure, some are similar, and yes, there are a lot of voices which means a lot of characters get lost or forgotten, but there are many voices that come through loud and clear again and again, shining bright in their teenage imperfections. You will recognize yourself and people you knew in high school in each of these characters, but let’s face it: we are all Jeffs.
Jeff is rather unlikable, but it’s his unlikability which makes your root for him. And I have to admit, the reason why I didn’t like it is because I saw my own mistakes in him. He messes up, a lot. Like, yell-at-your-book-what-are-you-doing-Jeff messing up. But it’s all for the character development, which is great, even if it’s rushed and a crash course. But a novel needs an arc, and if the novel happens in 6 hours well… the arc is going to be fast paced.
There is so much representation for minorities in this book, and for voices that are rarely heard. If you don’t fall in love with Pard by the end of this novel, then you are doing something wrong. Alison was the type of girl I hated in high school, but she comes off some genuine that I couldn’t help but love her (or maybe it’s just because I love the Wife of Bath, who Alison is based upon). Sure, sometimes the characters are melodramatic, and yeah, the “everyone’s got a story that could break your heart” theme can get tiresome, but the good characters and plots outweigh the bad ones. I don’t think there was any character I didn’t love and understand and feel in my heart by the end of this.
Also, no spoilers, but the romance arc…….. is actually kind of beautiful. I’d read an entire book about that, yes please. It warms my cold little heart.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I love this book and everything it brings to the table. I know it’s faults, but I can’t help singing its praises. I never wanted to stop reading it. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this gem, and I urge everyone to read it. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll make you want to tell a story of your own.
4.5 bus trips out of 5.
(Did I mention there’s an intersex character? SO COOL.)