Review: The Almost Truth – Eileen Cook

the almost truth - eileen cook

Sadie can’t wait to get away from her backwards small town, her delusional mom, her jailbird dad, and the tiny trailer where she was raised…even though leaving those things behind also means leaving Brendan. Sadie wants a better life, and she has been working steadily toward it, one con at a time.

But when Sadie’s mother wipes out Sadie’s savings, her escape plan is suddenly gone. She needs to come up with a lot of cash — and fast — or she’ll be stuck in this town forever.

With Brendan’s help, she devises a plan — the ultimate con — to get the money. But the more lies Sadie spins, the more she starts falling for her own hoax…and perhaps for the wrong boy. Sadie wanted to change her life, but she wasn’t prepared to have it flipped upside down by her own deception. With her future at stake and her heart on the line, suddenly it seems like she has a lot more than just money to lose…

The Almost Truth was one of those books I picked up on a whim, so intrigued by the title that I wanted to read it, even though I had absolutely no idea what it was about. The cover seemed generic (romantic, I guess), I knew it was a contemporary young adult novel, and I had heard such amazing things about some of Eileen Cook’s other works that I checked it out from my library immediately. Unfortunately, I have conflicting thoughts about this book, which both failed to engage me and entertained me more than I expected.

The main synopsis of the novel is fairly simple: Sadie lives in a small town, and would do anything to attend Berkeley University, where she’s been admitted for the upcoming fall semester. Her family can barely scrape by on a day-to-day basis, so attending an expensive, out-of-state university seemed like a distant dream for her. However, Sadie has been waiting for this opportunity her entire life, and has been taking the necessary steps to make it happen by saving all of her earnings from her job, as well as pulling off small extra-five-dollar cons occasionally. Sadie’s unhappiness with her life makes sense to me. No one wants to live in poverty, in a trailer park in a town where everyone knows and judges you for your social status, for the fact that your mother works as a maid in a hotel or your father is incarcerated every few years for a scam or theft of some kind. I can understand her need to get away from the community gossip and start fresh somewhere else, where her colorful family history wouldn’t follow her around like an inescapable mark or a dark cloud of prejudice and restricted opportunities. And I found her perseverance and persistence to actually work toward her dreams, whatever it takes (with some moral grounds though she eventually challenges those in times she considers desperate), admirable.

However, once Sadie’s parents used her savings without permission, and Sadie no longer had a guaranteed escape route, I felt constantly… disinterested in her. I can understand her frustration and her fury, of course, and I would no doubt cry if I were in the same position. And yet, the way she continued to complain about her problems to her best friend Brendan, the way she continued to argue with her mother (who exasperated me more than Sadie did), and the way she thought it necessary to pull off a grand con, even one that would take advantage of a grieving (wealthy) couple who were still looking for their missing daughter, bothered me. I don’t know what it’s like to be that desperate that you would, against your better sense of morality or judgment, willingly take advantage of another person, but I also never felt like Sadie’s situation called for it. She could have attended state or community college for free, perhaps deferred for a year and left town then, even if it were later than she planned. And her plotting and scheming, first to steal a missing child’s identity (just because she nearly matched her photograph on the missing person’s poster) and then to take advantage of someone involved in that child’s abduction, seemed bizarre to me. I couldn’t wrap my head around her way of thinking, and I couldn’t imagine a person who would, even under dire circumstances, react to that type of poster in that manner.

I didn’t really begin to enjoy the novel until the uncertainty surrounding the missing heiress transformed into an actual mystery. Although I did not agree with Sadie’s reasons for investigating the situation so thoroughly, I was quickly swept away by its suspense. Like Sadie herself started to feel every time she unveiled something new and relevant, I was dying to know what had truly happened to Ava McKenna fifteen years ago. Which of the people remotely connected to the scenario or the family could have had anything to do with the girl’s kidnapping? Where was she now? How had she vanished, and whom was lying when the police had questioned him or her back then? I loved everything about this aspect of the plot, so when the characters failed to intrigue me, the mystery within the story kept me engaged. And even though I figured out the truth (or rather, a truth) about Ava McKenna early on (probably as soon as she was mentioned in the very beginning of the novel), I don’t think anyone could have predicted every significant tiny detail or development that made the story (and its ending) possible.

It was only after The Almost Truth‘s mystery started unraveling that I began to value and appreciate Sadie as a character. While I could understand her situation before and her reasons for clinging to anything that could possibly serve as an escape from her current life, she had failed to leave an impression upon me (and as I mentioned before, I could not understand her thought process at all). When the coincidences in her life developed into actual unresolved questions, and Sadie’s mission transformed into one of personal identity, she finally started to seem real to me. The suspicious circumstances, her parents’ non-answers, the fact that there were more than just a few parallels between her life and this missing stranger’s changed Sadie’s story from one of an ambitious scheme for escape to one of actual truth. The former frustrated me. This new direction (attempting to figure out who she really is, where she actually belongs, and why she never could quite mesh with her own family), however, actually hit me hard. It’s a common fantasy to ponder your life with one major difference, how a new location or more wealth or a different situation could change the way you live and the opportunities you have. The holes in Sadie’s memories — inexplicable things that seemed to connect (in some manner) to this lost child, whose digitally-aged face matched her own almost exactly — would only naturally inspire such thoughts. I also loved that Sadie’s search transcended beyond the truth about her biological parents and the life that might have been hers. She ended up seeking a better understanding of herself as a person, undefined by her parents, her social status, her finances, and her hometown. This search for self awareness is what made Sadie finally exist for me — as someone who could be real, is real, may even be me…

Spoilery Scribbles

 Though I didn’t like her much in the beginning of The Almost Truth, I liked the way Sadie was fairly logical in her way of thinking. Which is why I couldn’t understand how a character like Sadie could so quickly react to the poster of a (wealthy) missing child with the idea to somehow con someone for the reward money. I know that she felt desperate, and that the girl on the poster looked alarmingly like she did, but it seemed like too great a jump to make for someone who seemed to think so rationally before. And while I thought immediately that she might be that missing heiress, since the resemblance seemed to be uncanny, I didn’t think Sadie herself would rapidly jump to that conclusion. How can you see a photograph that looks like you and seriously think, solely because of a likeness and one or two similarity, that you are actually someone else (when nothing in your life has made you question your identity before)? This would be the last conclusion I would make, so it seemed strange to me that someone who appeared to be so reasonable would actually consider this absurd possibility as probable fact. (Of course, later on, Brendan basically tells Sadie this, and she feels ridiculous for the consideration, so maybe at this time, she felt so disconsolate about the current state of her life that she desperately wanted to believe something that seemed so outlandish could actually be true?)

 Sadie’s parents frustrated me. In a situation where every bit is necessary to survive and make ends meet, communication and cooperation with funds is important. But I don’t think (when she’s been taking care of herself by obtaining her own money for college because between herself and her mother, they can barely afford to live in their trailer) it was right for her mom to take her money without asking. Her husband’s freedom from jail is obviously important to her, but Sadie’s education is important too, and if Sadie came up with the money herself, it seemed unfair to deny her those finances, even if she was intelligent enough to go to a school in their home-state for free. I also really hated the way her parents behaved — in general — throughout the book. Her mom’s delusions made sense to me, but her father’s complete disregard of Sadie as a person, let alone as his child, irritated me. His story at the end of the novel made him seem more human and less of a villain, but even then, the reveal did not fully redeem him for me (though I no longer hated him after that point).

 I don’t think Sadie ever properly dealt with her feelings (or lack thereof) for Brendan. Romance was not the point of The Almost Truth, so this wasn’t a significant loss. However, I thought it was really abrupt how she went from denying anything between them to suddenly realizing that she had feelings for him after resolving some of her mysteries with her mother. It was like once she learned the truth (or a side of the truth) and accepted it, everything that had felt off about her relationship with Brendan was suddenly all right.  Because this book is written in the first person perspective, I expected more about Sadie’s thought process in the actual text.

 The Almost Truth doesn’t explore him thoroughly, but I liked Brendan as a secondary character, and I adored his loyalty to Sadie. He was a reliable presence in the novel, the voice of honesty and truth when Sadie really needed to hear it, and her partner-in-crime when she needed assistance, but we know little beyond that about him. I would have enjoyed getting to know him better.

 I know Sadie mostly used Chase, and Chase was probably trying to get Sadie into his bed the entire time, but the abrupt way that “love triangle” collapsed bothered me. It was clear that with every interaction Sadie discovered how little she actually liked Chase, but she never acknowledges it. Until a single moment when she suddenly realizes that she really couldn’t care less about him and that he (probably) only wanted to sleep with her, and dismisses him entirely. Mostly, I think that, aside from needing to use Chase to discover things about Ava McKenna or her family, Sadie’s relationship with Chase was pointless and did little to serve the plot. (It did, however, make Brendan jealous, so I guess there’s that…)

 I think the plot twists in The Almost Truth are brilliant. For most of the novel, I thought one thing was real, until Eileen Cook convinced me that something else was real. Only to point out that reality isn’t as real as she made it seem. I truly enjoyed the story’s twists and turns.

 The scene between Sadie and Mrs. McKenna at the end made me teary.

 The cons in this novel felt strange to me because I’m so used to the glamorous and adventurous cons of Heist Society.

 I am so glad Sadie never went with her original idea to pretend to be Ava McKenna and claim the reward money. I can think of a hundred ways that plan could have backfired on her, and I’m glad that Brendan pointed out exactly how flawed it was the moment she voiced it.

 I thought the story ended too abruptly. I know it was meant to be open-ended, but I’d like to know how Sadie’s meeting with the McKennas went, what happened to her (and Brendan) next, what happened to her parents, and how life changed (or didn’t) for all of them. The story seems incomplete without at least some of this information.

 I do not understand what The Almost Truth’s cover has to do with the actual novel (aside from the crossed fingers, which go well with the implications of the title). The photograph deceives you into thinking this book is primarily a romance (when it’s more of a character study).

While The Almost Truth was not exactly my cup of tea, I found the suspenseful elements of the novel compelling. Sadie’s search for personal identity is moving, and although she frustrated me at times, ultimately I was able to appreciate her story and her character.



Leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: