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Monday, July 09, 2018
All Of This Is True by Lygia Day Penaflor. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2018
MIRI loves the novel Undertow like it's a living being. So when she and her friends get the chance to meet the author, Fatima Ro, they plot a way to get closer to her. As for what happened with Jonah … Well, obviously none of that was Fatima's fault.
SOLEIL wants to be a writer herself one day. She can't believe it when Fatima asks them to hang out with her – and having Jonah there makes it even better.
PENNY is more than the party girl everyone thinks she is, and she's willing to share her darkest secrets with Fatima to prove it. But what will happen when Fatima finds out about Jonah?
These days, YA fiction is huge. Some YA novelists get massive promotion for their debut novels (and, often enough, movie rights are acquired before the book even comes out!). It’s a phenomenon that doesn’t often happen in adult fiction, unless the book is controversial.
And let’s face it, fandom has always been a strange thing. Fans idolise their favourite writers, sometimes even feel they own them. (Only this morning on Twitter I saw a thread by a huge-name children’s writer, in which her fans gushed over her. She deserved the praise, mind you, but still...)
So, what happens when you manage to get close to one of your heroes?
Teenagers Miri, Soleil and Penny turn up at a local book signing by debut author Fatima Ro, towing their friend Jonah, with a careful plan to get her attention afterwards. They succeed and soon find themselves invited regularly to her home and confiding in her their deepest secrets, which she encourages, giving the girls advice, including urging Soleil to get closer to Jonah, who has a particularly unpleasant deep dark secret - one which has landed him in hospital after a bad beating. A beating he got after Fatima Ro’s New York Times bestselling second novel came out - the one with all four of them in it...
This novel is well written and easy reading. It is written in the form of interviews, journal entries(published in an on line newspaper) and sample chapters from the novel-within-a-novel. I finished it quickly and found the premise fascinating. I picked up quite quickly what the unethical Fatima Ro wanted from the kids. And a fair way into the book, we found out why she wanted it. I understood why, however unethical her behaviour was.
I would, however, have liked to have at least one character I cared about. Possibly the only reasonably decent character in the novel was the journalist who was interviewing Miri and Penny, and the reader only gets to know him through his questions and the information he passes on to them. I wanted to feel sympathy for the girls for having been sucked in by the author, but, while their behaviour was believably teenage - “Wow, OMG, we’re hanging out with the author of this amazing book!” - it’s not sympathetic. Miri, who keeps denying anything was Fatima’s fault, has been enjoying the sense of power and recognition she got from starting a fan club/cult at their wealthy private school. Soleil is furious at having had her secrets exposed - which doesn’t stop her from taking advantage of the whole business by selling the rights to her journal to an online publication. Penny picks up what’s going on sooner than the others, but she is mainly upset because she was getting less attention from her heroine than the others, not because she thought what Fatima was doing was wrong. And Jonah really only appears as a character in that second novel, not in his own right. I won’t tell you his Dark Secret, because spoilers, but you will pick it up fairly quickly.
In all fairness, the author doesn’t cheat us. The clues are there if you read carefully.
I do suspect that in real life, the girls’ wealthy parents, who can afford lawyers, would have been suing an author who wrote their daughters into a novel. And if they didn’t, Soleil, at least, would have been invited to turn her journal entries into a ghost-written tell-all book.
Will teenage girls like it? Quite probably they will. They might not identify with the characters, but they have likely been reading and viewing similar stuff, with characters just as unsympathetic as these. If I still had a school library I would certainly have donated this and asked my book club girls for some opinions.
Meanwhile, here are mine. A very readable book with plenty of “ouch!” moments in it, but I’d rather have read a story with characters I loved.