When I began my Master’s in Children’s Literature, I really hadn’t read that much children’s literature let alone Canadian children’s literature. In classes we were often asked about our favourite children’s texts and so many people pointed to Kit Pearson, who, now that I look back on it, had probably been read to me, but who’s writing I had never really experienced on my own. So I picked up her newest book at the time (now I think her newest book is the sequel And Nothing But the Truth). I loved it, and I wrote a review and sent it in to YAACs and so much of this review has been previously published.
Here we go!
Set in Canada during the Depression in 1932, Kit Pearson’s The Whole Truth depicts nine-year-old Polly’s life as it changes dramatically, and she enters adolescence. Polly and her fifteen-year-old sister Maud leave Winnipeg to live with their grandmother on an island close to Victoria, British Columbia. The girls leave everything they know behind them, moving from a large prairie city to the mountainous small island with their family, who they’ve never met. Pearson beautifully captures the mind and heart of young Polly as she struggles to adjust to the move, to her sister being away at school and to island life, all while learning to love her new family. Polly is resilient and adaptive and ever honest to herself and the reader. But Polly has a secret that is becoming increasingly difficult to keep, and her family seems to be keeping secrets from her too. As Polly grows up on the island, she learns that the truth really can set you free.
Kit Pearson is a gifted and eloquent writer and what makes her books enduring is her uncanny ability to understand and empathize with the adolescent mind. Author of A Perfect Gentle Knight and the award-winning Guests of War series, her delicate prose and realistic child protagonists capture the hearts of readers. She taps directly into the core of childhood and addresses all of the fears, anxieties, and joys that occur in the time between the ages of 9 and 12. Her books feel timeless, regardless of the era in which they are set. With The Whole Truth, Pearson offers lively characters and a rich depiction of life on the island, which is itself an important stage for Polly’s self-discovery, all with the backdrop of the 1930s depression.
Kit Pearson has crafted a story of mystery and childhood. It seems to the reader that Polly would be so much more at ease if everyone just told the truth. The story is a comment on social expectations and about how adults underestimate the heart of a child. It is a story about being part of a family, a family’s history and a family’s secrets. The island, beautiful and full of rural life, is also a setting that forces Polly to face truths. She struggles to understand the behaviour of the older characters around her, including her grandmother, who is very kind but possibly prejudiced towards ‘others’. At the same time, she tries to find her own self identity. Polly discovers her individuality when dealing with adolescent and human experiences, like nervousness about boys and flirting with vegetarianism, all while dealing with the intense secrets of her family history and trying to discover where she fits in with her new family and life on the island.
Watching Polly bloom is an absolute pleasure. Pearson manages to bring her young protagonist out of her shell and into life without straying from the fundamentals of her character. I enjoyed Polly’s struggle with meat-eating, given her tender hearted feelings towards animals. Her relationship with the headstrong and fiercely opinionated Maud is aptly complicated and gives Pearson a stage to explore Polly’s growing autonomy. I love how Pearson surrounds Polly with a cast of warm and loving characters that are far from perfect, but provide the support that Polly was previously missing in her life.
Kit Pearson has written a careful, charming observance of a young child dealing with hardship and the weight of secrets. Bringing reality and respect to the feelings of a child, Pearson teaches us that time does heal, but honesty and forgiveness of others and of oneself will ultimately bring peace. Almost every important character in The Whole Truth undergoes some kind of transformation or struggle with the truth, and Pearson’s text encourages her readers to try to see them in shades of grey rather than black and white. Although the novel seems aimed at a younger teen readership, the hard-earned but simple lesson Polly learns is of value to readers of any age: people are complex – they can and do change, and that’s the truth.
I look forward to reading the sequel and to delving back into the many novels by Kit Pearson, truly the interiority of this book was what drew me in. Well worth a read!