The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows
In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.
At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.
This book was a bit of an endurance race to get through. I started out strong reading the hardcover book, but then I had to return it to the library since it was a 7 day loan. I was able to get the audio book right away, so I picked up with audio starting on chapter 10. It took me several weeks to make it to the end because my daily commute is fairly short.
The book is told in alternating points of view: Willa, a 12-year old girl speaking in 1st person, Jottie, her 30-something aunt who raised her, portrayed in 3rd person, and Layla, the 20-something writer who’s boarding with them and writing the history of their small town in West Virginia. Layla’s chapters are also in 3rd person or sometimes in epistolary form.
The parallel stories of Layla’s interviews for her book and Willa’s “research” were enjoyable despite the slow speed of my progress through this book. Both characters were going after the truth and were determined to get it no matter what direction they were given by their superiors.
I became really invested in the characters. They kept me reading/listening even when the plot got a little dull. This was definitely a character driven story. I loved Willa! I enjoyed her search for the truth about her family, her fierce desire to protect those she loves, and her strong voice. Annie Barrows knows how to write youth; that’s for sure. I was undecided about Jottie. At times I was routing for her, but at other times I felt she was making life harder for herself. I did not particularly care for Layla, or Willa’s father, Felix.
I was impressed with Barrows ability to write in different styles and from different perspectives. Each character truly had their own voice. I especially loved the beautiful language of the short excerpts from the history book Layla is writing inside the story.
While I didn’t love this book, I am happy I read it. If you’re going to do the audio book, I suggest the Audible version, so you can listen at 1.25 or 1.5 speed.
My Rating: 3 Stars
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