Saturday, April 11, 2015

The honest truth by Dan Gemeinhart

If you are looking for a fast paced survival adventure book that deals with issues of life and death then The Honest Truth is a book you should grab.

There are many examples I could give you from the text that show how highly improbable this story really is but I don't want to do this.  A young reader will be swept up in the journey Mark has undertaken and the extreme dangers he encounters.  It seems churlish to say a ten year old boy surely did not think of all these amazing things to put in his pack.  Not to mention how excruciatingly heavy this pack would be carried on his thin frame along with a small dog in his duffle bag!

Mark has suffered endless hospital visits since his cancer diagnosis when he was a tiny boy.  All through these tough times his special friend Jessie has stood by him.  Visiting for hours at the hospital and supporting him when he was able to attend school but now the final verdict is in and the cancer has returned.

Mark sets off on one last journey to the mountain loved by his Grandfather - Mount Rainier.  He takes his loyal dog Beau but does leave a note for Jessie.

"To my truest friend,
I'm so sorry. And goodbye.
Hold my secret now."

There are two things to notice about this letter.  It is a haiku.  Mark explains this to a young girl that he meets on a bus :

"It's Haiku .. My best friend and I love them.  Our favourite teacher, in third grade, taught us about them.  We use them like a kind of .. code, I guess.  We write notes in Haiku.  We even talk in Haiku sometimes."

The second thing to notice here is the enormous moral dilemma that Jessie must now grapple with.  She knows why Mark has run away and she is pretty sure she knows exactly where he is headed.  As she sits with his distraught mum and dad over the following days she must decide - to tell or not to tell.

This book is written in alternate chapters - we experience Mark's reality followed by Jessie memories of their friendship.

Dan Gemeinhart gently reveals the truths mentioned in the title and this is a real strength of this storytelling.  If you need to read more of the plot (spoiler alert) take a look at this review.

You might also enjoy Hatchet or Wolf Brother.

Here is a set of teaching notes.  The advance copy came with some interesting additions.  There are some excellent videos of the author here on Mr Schu's web site. These would be perfect to use if you are reading The Honest Truth with a Grade 5 or 6 class.  Here is a terrific trailer.

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