“Every generation has its flashbulb moments… Flash-click. But can you remember where you were a week last Monday? A month ago? A year? Can you recall details about an ordinary day? I can. For me, every waking moment is a flashbulb moment.”
Jess may only be seventeen-years-old but her head is already full of memories so precise, she can recall every detail like she’s reliving them. Hiding from her past in a school on Dartmoor, Jess takes night-time swims to try to forget what happened to her while she was on the dubious Programme – led by the ambitious Professor Coleman – and also trying to hide from her own role in her room-mate’s fall from their bedroom window. When new boy Dan arrives, along with mysterious postcards meant for Jess to find, Jess’s past – and every lie she’s told and been told – seems to be catching up with her. But when your mind is an infallible library of facts and feelings, how can you move on? If you can’t forget, can you forgive?
The Truth About Lies comes hot on the heels of Tracy Darnton’s winning short story, which was published by Stripes in the I’ll Be Home for Christmas anthology. Having loved her short story – and having had the opportunity to read a promising early draft of her debut novel – I was eager to get my hands on the finished book. And it doesn’t disappoint.
Jess is a complex character, hard-edged with a sharp wit and an even sharper ability to push people away – maybe even literally, in the case of her dead room-mate. Her eidetic (photographic) memory along with her extraordinary ability to remember every detail of her past, sets her apart. Professor Coleman, researching the nature of memory, tells Jess’ mother that Jess doesn’t have an illness but rather she has a ‘supreme talent’ – but maybe Mum is right. Because remembering every detail, every painful, embarrassing, and humiliating moment of your life might not be that good for your mental health.
Added into this mix are heart-racing mysteries and intrigues. Just who is sending the postcards and what do the messages on them mean? Will Dr Harrison – the school counsellor – ever really get Jess to tell him the truth or does he have secrets of his own he’s trying to hide? And is it just a coincidence that their new Theory of Knowledge teacher, Mr Desai, is so set on discussing the topic of memory?
In a world where we are all used to contracting-out our memory (mobiles remember our friends’ and families’ phone numbers, the internet tells us every fact in an instant so we don’t have to bother remembering them) and where Alzheimer’s is set to affect 1 million people in the UK alone, Darnton explores the importance of using our memory as well as the usefulness of forgetting. She skilfully weaves these ruminations into a plot packed full of twists and turns. We’re never sure who to trust – especially Jess herself.
As one of the messages left for Jess says: ‘Things are seldom what they seem’. And in this exciting thriller, even with Jess’ incredible memory, this has never been more true. The Truth About Lies is an ambitious debut with a fast-paced plot and an intriguing protagonist for young adult readers who enjoy complex and sophisticated thrillers.
** Tomorrow Tracy Darnton joins My Book Corner, kicking off her blog tour with a post entitled Where The Wild Things Are. **