The honest truth by Dan Gemeinhart
Chicken House, 2015. ISBN 9781910002131
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. The theme of children facing terminal illness has been explored in other novels recently but this one deserves consideration as a lovely story with realistic characters and an authentic plot.
Sick of treatment, sick of relapses and sick of the pain and illness caused by cancer, Mark is fed up and feels that it is time to die after climbing Mount Rainier, a challenge which he and his late Grandfather had dreamed of achieving. Such a story could easily degenerate into a morbid and hopeless portrayal of a child's fear and desperation or a traumatic examination of emotional torment felt by family and friends contemplating loss. Not so in this novel. The main character possesses wisdom, ingenuity and stoicism which enables him to press on against adversity and the presence of his brave and faithful little dog provides comic relief and the desire to cheer.
The author has clearly not intended this tale to be a wallowing, heart wrenching ordeal for the reader. There is a great deal of emphasis placed upon goodness, shown in the devotion by parents, the innocent, guaranteed love from his best friend, the unconditional trust from his dog and the kindness shown by strangers, sometimes at a cost. There is no shying away from the truth however and it is made clear from the start that Mark believes he will die. It is important to emphasise that there is no suggestion of suicide, rather it is acknowledged that grave illness and severely dangerous environmental factors make it likely that he will not return.
The clever methods used by the child to travel great distance and his strategies to overcome problems are believable, as are the reactions and behaviours by loved ones and authorities as they try locate the young boy. I liked the style of alternate chapters narrating Mark's exploits in the first person versus third person descriptive passages explaining what is happening to Mark's parents and his best friend Jessie, printed in a different font. Chapter numbers are quirky with Mark's having whole numbers and the alternate perspective chapters being assigned half numbers, a statement which underlines that for Mark, it is about trying to slow time down, to delay the inevitable and stretch his allotted days to accomplish his dream.
The engaging characters and exciting plot makes this a great read which avoids undue distress whilst dealing with a painful topic.