The Truth Commission: A Book Review


The Truth CommissionTitle: The Truth Commission

Author: Susan Juby
Published: April 14th, 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult / Realistic Fiction
Source: Library / Hardcover
Series: Nope!

Open secrets are the heart of gossip—the things that no one is brave or clueless enough to ask. That is, except for Normandy Pale and her friends Dusk and Neil. They are juniors at Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design, and they have no fear. They are the Truth Commission.

Then, one of their truth targets says to Normandy: “If you want to know about the truth, you might want to look a little closer to home.” And that means facing Keira, Normandy’s brilliant older sister, the creator of a bestselling graphic novel series, who has left college and come home under mysterious circumstances, and in complete silence.

Even for a Truth Commissioner, there are some lines that cannot be crossed.

This dryly funny, knife-sharp novel, written as “narrative nonfiction” by Normandy herself, features footnotes, illustrations, and a combination mystery/love story that will capture readers from the first page. {Goodreads}

While it is not always as prominent of an element, setting is just as important to a novel as the characters and the plot. Setting can transform a story, and the right environment should linger with the reader long after they have finished the book. Popular bestsellers offer a number of prime examples, from the wizardry school Hogwarts to the dystopian nation of Panem, but memorable settings in contemporary fiction are less frequent of an occurrence. Susan Juby’s newest piece of realistic fiction, however, is set against a backdrop that’s one to remember and even harder to forget. Told in “narrative nonfiction,” The Truth Commission follows its characters in their search for truth at their quirky art school, Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design. It’s clever, it’s humorous, and it’s thoughtful; if anything, Juby’s novel is worth picking up for a trip to Green Pastures alone.

The students at Green Pastures must each complete a final project for the year; Normandy Pale, The Truth Commission’s narrator and protagonist, decides to exercise her writing skills in a narrative nonfiction piece about her older sister, Keira, and her disappearance. This unique structure not only captures the reader’s attention, but also frames the story in an interesting and impactful way. It could have easily gone wrong were it not for Normandy’s vivid and distinct narration, complete with entertaining footnotes and illustrations, that invites the reader into her dysfunctional family life. Furthermore, Normandy’s situation may not be common among “typical teens,” but she captures the struggles of adolescence all the same.

Normandy is not the only complex and artistic character of the novel. Her friends lead rather creative lives; Dusk is known for her work in taxidermy and dioramas, while Neil is a portrait artist of beautiful women. Their unusual hobbies aside, Dusk and Neil demonstrate the meaning of friendship. All three – Normandy, Dusk, and Neil – make mistakes as they uncover the truth, but they realize that having each other’s back comes before having the right answer. Normandy’s family is less of an inspiration, but they too illustrate the significance of trust in a relationship. Juby presents two extremes with Normandy’s friends and family: those that look for honesty and those who run from it.

Like another one of my recent reads, I was surprised, though not disappointed, in the book’s storyline. The synopsis does little to reveal the plot of the novel, so readers discover the facts of Keira’s life on the same timeline, so to speak, as Normandy. There’s no doubt that The Truth Commission is strange, but Juby never loses her story’s plausibility. It can border the line of unrealistic {I, for one, couldn’t believe grown adults would act so clueless}, but it also presents situations that are, sadly, all too true. Keira, for example, pulls events from her own family’s life and uses them in her bestselling graphic novels without permission, an action that forces readers to ponder truth in the creative setting.

We, as a society, like to shy from the truth. We can hide behind screens, keep secrets more easily, or as in Normandy’s case, warp reality to fit our artistic needs. We may wonder if this is right, but perhaps, the question we need to ask is, “Is this always wrong?” It would be nice to have an answer, but Juby’s novel reminds us that truth can be messy, that real life can be messy. The Truth Commission is seemingly light, but the themes and questions it presents are far more than your average “beach read.” I highly recommend it; Green Pasture and its students are a delight from beginning to end.

Need more convincing? Here’s what other reviewers had to say.
“This book had a little bit of everything which I loved. Mystery, humor, romance, family drama, and personal issues to resolve. It was great, and it was very well-rounded” {read the rest of the review at Jenn Renee Read HERE}.

“Overall, I love this novel. The narrative nonfiction style is unusual and fresh and works so well here. It took a few chapters for me to get Norm’s voice and her use of footnotes, but it all settles out for a fantastic read” {read the rest of the review at Fab Book Reviews HERE}.

“The fact that I’d read and enjoyed a prior Juby novel ages ago {Home to Woefield} swayed me to look deeper. This, friends, was a good choice. Susan Juby’s The Truth Commission is a funny, wry, and thought-provoking look at truth, family, and art school” {read the rest of the review at A Reader of Fictions HERE}.

Have a wonderful start to your week and a happy Memorial Day for my American readers! :)

8 thoughts on “The Truth Commission: A Book Review

  1. […] The Truth Commission by Susan Juby | “Told in “narrative nonfiction,” The Truth Commission follows its characters in their search for truth at their quirky art school, Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design. It’s clever, it’s humorous, and it’s thoughtful.” […]


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