I suspect that there’s almost no such thing as a book that isn’t personal to the author.
I say that because I’d just been about to open this piece with something along the lines of this throwaway line: “The Honest Truth, my debut novel, is very personal to me.”
Of course it is. I wrote it. And every book must be personal on some level–even short ones, even silly ones–because each word and each line, even if they’re punch lines, each one was written down by an author who reached down inside and brought them up from somewhere.
But, nevertheless, The Honest Truth is a very personal book for me.
The Honest Truth is about a boy with cancer. He runs away from his home. He leaves his family and friend to fear and to worry. He brings with him only his unfailingly loyal dog, Beau, whom he leads selfishly into great peril. His destination is nothing less than the top of Mount Rainier, a formidable and dangerous journey under the best circumstances, for the healthiest of adventurers. He’s just learned that his cancer has returned, and he has decided that he is tired of fighting it. Climbing Mount Rainier has long been his dream, and he resolves that now is the time to pursue that dream. He does not go to die, but he knows that is a distinct possibility. And he’s okay with that–or thinks he is, anyway.
I did not set out to write a book about cancer, or about dying, or about running away.
I set out to write a book to honor a friend of mine. He was my sister’s fiancé. He was kind, and adventurous, and generous. He worked at an independent bookstore. He loved climbing mountains, including Rainier. And he fought cancer. Right up until the end.
He left sadness in his wake, and absence–but also the warm footprint of his spirit, and memories of adventures, and friendship, and a life well lived. And that is what I set out to honor.
Not the way he died. The way he lived.
So I wrote this book to be an adventure story, a northwest journey story, a friendship tale. It is not a book about cancer. It is a book about courage and loyalty.
It’s a book that I hope he would have liked.
But what also makes The Honest Truth a personal book for me is that it is not just about courage and loyalty. It’s also about choices.
Some of the characters make choices that are questionable – including Mark, the protagonist. He makes the choice to run away, a selfish choice that he knows will devastate his parents. And he makes the choice to bring his dog along on what may just be a suicide mission, simply because he can’t bear to go alone.
Mark’s best friend, Jessie…she figures out where he’s going. And she knows he’s trusting her to keep it secret. Your best friend, who’s just a kid, being in mortal danger? That’s a tough secret to keep. A secret that maybe shouldn’t be kept. But she has to make that choice. And other people along the way, as well, have to decide how to help or hamper the boy and his dog, alone in a dark world. The choices they make aren’t always great ones. Those choices are rough ones. Hard calls. Personal decisions.
Something I’ve learned in this life, something that I’m sure we all have, is that there is never a shortage of tough decisions–choices that could be argued either way; off-ramps and alternate routes that change your life dramatically, that affect the people around you in serious ways. That’s part of living, part of being a person. Unless you’re a dust bunny or a fur ball, you’ll never have the luxury of making a decision in a vacuum.
We decide every day, with the choices we make and the choices we don’t make, what kind of people we are.
And I wanted this book to be about that, too.
Because Mark, the real Mark who inspired this story, was a great kind of person. He was thoughtful, and loving, and warm. That’s the kind of person he chose to be. And I wanted to honor that–not just the being, but the choosing.
The Honest Truth is a book for kids, and it’s got some tough stuff in it. I know that might be a problem for some readers. But I think it’s important. I think books for older kids should acknowledge that their readers are growing, are looking around, are learning and wondering about the world, are on the brink of not being kids anymore, are in the process of deciding and discovering what kind of people they are and what kind of people they want to be. They’re thinking about choices and secrets. And books can make them think about those things in new and sometimes difficult ways. They’re looking for answers. But some books should give them more questions than answers.
I worked hard writing this story. I worked hard at trying to find the right way to tell it. I wanted it to be fun. I wanted it to be exciting. I wanted it to make readers feel things, and think things, and question things. I chose to write it that way, because I think it’s important and worthwhile. And I am so, so happy and so, so grateful that I get the opportunity to see this story on the shelves of beautiful bookstores all across the northwest. I know Mark would have loved that.
So I hope the world likes The Honest Truth. I hope that, if you read it, you like it, too.
Because The Honest Truth, my debut novel, is very personal to me.
The Honest Truth is now available at independent bookstores around the country. While supplies last, signed copies are available at the author’s local indie, A Book For All Seasons in Leavenworth, WA. The novel was chosen by a national panel of independent booksellers as one of ten Indies Introduce New Voices debut books to recommend for young readers.