Truest - 2015 Reading Challenge

It is fun to read books written by friends. Jackie Lea Sommers went to my alma mater and knows my home state inside and out, which is why (even though it's not true) I chose her debut novel Truest to fill my book that takes place in your hometown category. I don't think a book has ever been set in my actual hometown, Fergus Falls, which is made up of about 13,000 people and hasn't been heard of by most people I met in Minnesota, but Truest captures the life I knew there so completely that I was satisfied it fulfilled the requirement. I'll give you an example. Here is a quote that made me laugh out loud from sheer familiarity:

That evening was a perfect Minnesota June night, cool and breezy, and Cedar Street was quiet except for the sound of Jody Perkins riding his lawn mower home from the bar.

Need I say more? Okay, I will.

I haven't been reading a lot of YA in the past few years. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that, as a genre, it's sort of frowned on in MFA writing programs, which of course I think is nonsense because writing for a younger audience often takes a lot more skill and hard work than writing for the 'literary' crowd.

Anyway. I could wax philosophical about that for hours. I could tell you that adults used to reading and excited by a challenge will plod through Proust and Dickens just to say that they did it, whereas teenagers and young adults have no qualms about closing a book ten pages in if they're not hooked. I could tell you all about that, but instead, how about I just say some nice things about Truest? There are, after all, many nice things to say.

Westlin Beck is the pastor's daughter, living in Green Lake, Minnesota and embarking on her last summer break before the end of her high school career. She's still coming to terms with the fact that her boyfriend will be working all summer, and her best friend away at camp, when a new family arrives in Green Lake (and we all know what a big deal that is in a tiny town where everyone knows everyone).

From the moment she meets Silas and Laurel Hart, she knows their presence in her little community is going to change everything. West's dad butts in and gets Silas to be her partner for the summer, working with her to detail cars, and that settles it. She's going to have to get to know him. But despite their rocky start, she finds herself growing to like Silas and Laurel, even though Laurel has some serious issues that West isn't sure she -- or any teenager, for that matter -- is equipped to deal with.

All right, I'll come back to it. It's hard to write for teenagers. You need to have simple language, but not dumbed down words. There have to be lovely turns of phrase, but absolutely zero over-writing. You want to be funny, but you can't be too hilarious or people won't take you seriously. You want to have heart-wrenching moments, but not so many that people get a hangover of angst (an angst-over, if you will) from reading your book.

Sommers nails it. Silas is the ultimate romantic interest: clever, intelligent, good-looking, quirky (his hysterical t-shirt collection is my favorite) and wise. Most of all, he's damaged, and don't we all love a good damaged, sexy man? Yes. Yes we do.

Truest tackles mental illness, religion, poetry, philosophy, sex, youth, and growing up all in just a few hundred pages, set in the backdrop of an instantly recognizable place for so many people -- a small town. A town where everyone knows everyone's business. Where everyone knows you and expects things of you, especially in West's case as the pastor's daughter.

I related so much to this book, having grown up in a tiny community of conservative, Bible-believing Christians who had immovable views on sex, swearing, and salvation. I honestly don't know how Sommers managed to write a book 100% infused with faith and yet still so readable and relatable for people who have no interest in God at all, but my hat is off to her for this feat.

She managed to write one of the most honest books about faith and family that I've ever read, and all in this innocent package that so many 'serious' readers refuse to touch: Young Adult fiction.

That's the beauty of YA, and why I think it's such an important genre. Not only is it one of the most marketable, highest selling genres in the industry right now, but its audience is at the age where they're thinking about their lives, what they believe, and who they want to be.

Jackie Lea Sommers is a friend, but honestly if I had negative things to say about Truest, I probably would have just not reviewed the book. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised that I could feel no hesitation to strongly recommend Truestto you, regardless of whether you're usually a fan of YA. Pick it up, give it a shot. You may just surprise yourself.

What was the last book you read? What did you think?