What We Hide

cover artWhat We Hide is a tapestry of teen angst. Many perspectives make up the quilt of the story, all patched together with the common setting of the English boarding school. Most of the characters have secrets, family they are ashamed of, insecurities about friendships, identity crisis, and a lot of pent up sexual frustration.

Since my focus at the moment is Canadian literature for teens, (and this technically qualifies because Marthe Jocelyn is Canadian) I find it difficult to read about English teens and American teens spending time in England. Especially the way Canada is referred to in the first chapter, this doesn’t feel Canadian.┬áThe British slang is amusing, and made less confusing by Jenny’s American perspective.

The story is set in the time of the Vietnam war but the way the teens talk and interact feels contemporary. Perhaps I was overly sheltered or naive but I didn’t have nearly as much sex going on in my high school decades after this story takes place and I find it surprising how much is going on in the novel. Many of the characters had or become teen parents, something that I often hear older people complaining about as a “new” phenomenon because of shows like Teen Mom.

There’s good diversity of characters, with representations of more than one ethnicity, sexual orientation and social class. However, all of them feel defined by those characteristics.

I think this story might work better in a different medium, perhaps television? I felt jolted as it jumped from person to person. Format to format. Although I enjoyed the letters embedded in the text the scripts didn’t flow as well.

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The Gospel Truth

The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat is not about religion, so don’t let that influence your decision about reading it. If you like historical fiction, human rights stories or character based fiction this will catch your attention.

I have a weakness for novels in verse. There’s something about the way it flows that draws me in. I read this in less than two hours, but an easy read doesn’t mean a frivolous one. Heavy subject matter is explored in the text.

Pignat followed the popular trend this year of using multiple narrators so we have a varied perspective of the plantation. Sometimes when books do this it is confusing or unpleasant but Pignat has created such distinct voices that it works beautifully in this case. The book also has an imprint on the top indicating which character is speaking in any given chapter so if you don’t read it in one sitting like I did, you can come back to it and know who’s head you’re in.

Stories of slavery are always sad, but Pignat infuses her novel with hope and bravery. Yes reading about a time when humans treated one another so poorly can make us cringe at the faults of humanity, but the spirited Phoebe and Shad remind us there is good too. Doctor Bergman, the Canadian character, takes risks to help others.

This is a book that could be read in schools to celebrate Black History Month or to discuss human rights. If you are looking for an engaging way to introduce teens to the underground railroad, this is a book that will capture the attention of both literary enthusiasts and reluctant readers.