Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Truth According to Us

The Truth According to Us is the compelling tale of an eccentric family with a storied past.

Annie Barrow introduces us to the Romeyn family from the town of Macedonia, West Virginia. Set in the summer of 1938, matriarch Jottie Romeyn takes on a boarder, Layla Beck, who arrives in town via the WPA Writer's Project. Beck has been commissioned to write up the history of Macedonia in time for the town's anniversary. (See synopsis below.)

Barrow provides readers with fascinating characters. I really enjoyed the fact that the story includes the perspectives of both the adults and 11 year old Willa as well. Adding to the interest is the fact that much of Layla Beck's storyline comes to the reader via chapters written as her correspondence with family, friends and co-workers. The variety of narrative style makes the nearly 500 pages fly by!

The story engages readers on multiple levels as well. Not only are readers swept up in the details of the Romeyn's storyline (the basics of who, what, where, when, and why of their lives and the dramatic event that shaped them into the people readers encounter), readers also find themselves caught up in the psychological and emotional impact those day-to-day events have on the characters. Willa's struggle to reconcile her childhood view of her father with the harsh realities that are brought to light will strike a chord with readers who will recall the moment the veil was lifted on their own childhood views of the adults they esteemed. Jottie's wrestles with moments when familial loyalty clashes with her personal needs and wants. I suspect most readers will be able to identify with that as well!

Macedonia's streets and citizens are so well painted throughout the book, that readers will find themselves transported. I know I found myself nearly faint from the sweltering heat of August in the small West Virginia berg in a day and age before air conditioning. My feet ached from hoofing it alongside Layla on her rounds to visit and interview Macedonia's prominent citizens. I caught a whiff of Emmet's odiferous Model T as it bumped its way along the dusty lane to big farm and had to hold my breath.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Truth According to Us. I believe there is something for everyone in this novel: history, romance, mystery, illegal activities, a coming-of-age story, family drama, and political intrigue. You will likely come away from it with even more ideas and themes! If you have the task of choosing a book for your book club to read, I highly recommend Annie Barrows' The Truth According to Us!

Thanks to Shelf Awareness and the publisher for the Advance Reader Copy of the book which I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

From the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society comes a wise, witty, and exuberant novel, perfect for fans of Lee Smith, that illuminates the power of loyalty and forgiveness, memory and truth, and the courage it takes to do what’s right.

Annie Barrows once again evokes the charm and eccentricity of a small town filled with extraordinary characters. Her new novel, The Truth According to Us, brings to life an inquisitive young girl, her beloved aunt, and the alluring visitor who changes the course of their destiny forever.

In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.

About the Author . . .

Annie Barrows is the co-author, with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a runaway New York Times bestseller that was named one of the ten best books of the year by Time and USA Today. She is also the author of the children’s series Ivy and Bean as well as The Magic Half and its sequel, Magic in the Mix. She lives in Berkeley, California.


A voracious reader (but an admittedly poor speller!), Annie Barrows grew up in northern California. One of her first jobs, while she was still in school, was re-shelving books in one of her favorite haunts, the public library. She attended the University of California at Berkeley and graduated with a degree in Medieval History. After graduation, she went to work for a publisher, editing books in many different fields.

Bitten by the writing bug, Barrows received her M.F.A in Creative Writing from California's Mills College. She wrote several books on such diverse topics as fortune telling, urban legends, and opera before branching into children's literature. In June of 2006, she released Ivy and Bean, the first award-winning book in a series about two young girls who become best friends in spite of their differences. In 2007, she published The Magic Half, a standalone children's fantasy about the middle child (between two sets of twins) who travels back in time and befriends a young girl in need of her help.

In addition, Barrows and her aunt, the late Mary Ann Shaffer, collaborated on a post-WWII epistolary novel entitled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Conceived by Shaffer, the novel was accepted for publication in 2006, shortly before Shaffer fell ill. Barrows stepped in to complete the project, and the book was published in 2008 to positive reviews.

Good To Know

Here are some fascinating outtakes from the Barnes & Noble interview with Annie Barrows:

I can read palms. I learned when I was researching a book on fortune-telling, and I figure it's my back-up career if this writing thing doesn't work out. I can also read head lumps, but no thanks.

In my house, we have a Museum of Despair. The collection includes a burst pipe; the wire hanger that was being used to open my car when I surprised the thief; the stitches from my daughter's knee; a bottle of vodka so old that it's a product of the Soviet Union; and a broken thermometer.

There are two quotations stuck to the wall over my desk. Here they are:

"But how could it be true, Sir?" said Peter. "Why do you say that?" asked the Professor. "Well, for one thing," said Peter, "if it was real why doesn't everyone find this country every time they go to the wardrobe? I mean, there was nothing there when we looked; even Lucy didn't pretend there was." "What has that to do with it?" said the Professor. "Well, Sir, if things are real, they're there all the time." "Are they?" said the Professor; and Peter did not know quite what to say.

--from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

"Behold, you look on a man that is soon to be dust. Yet because love endures all things, tell me, I pray you, how fares the human race: if new roofs be risen in the ancient cities, whose empire is it that now sways the world; an if any still survive, snared in the error of the demons."

--from "The Life of St. Paul the Hermit"

Most of the time, I don't do anything but work and hang out with my family, but I just got back from a three-week trip to England, where I got a chance to indulge some of my secret fascinations: Neolithic standing stones, haunted battlefields, out-of-the-way castles, and Victorian anthropological collections.

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