The Size of the Truth by Andrew Smith
Publication date: March 26, 2019
Summary from NetGalley:
A boy who spent three days trapped in a well tries to overcome his PTSD and claustrophobia so he can fulfill his dream of becoming a famous chef in this charming novel that is Andrew Smith’s first foray into middle grade storytelling.
When he was four years old, Sam Abernathy was trapped at the bottom of a well for three days, where he was teased by a smart-aleck armadillo named Bartleby. Since then, his parents plan every move he makes.
But Sam doesn’t like their plans. He doesn’t want to go to MIT. And he doesn’t want to skip two grades, being stuck in the eighth grade as an eleven-year-old with James Jenkins, the boy he’s sure pushed him into the well in the first place. He wants to be a chef. And he’s going to start by entering the first annual Blue Creek Days Colonel Jenkins Macaroni and Cheese Cook-Off.
That is, if he can survive eighth grade, and figure out the size of the truth that has slipped Sam’s memory for seven years.
ARC provided by Simon and Schuster via NetGalley for an honest review.
I have only read a one or two of Andrew Smith’s YA books, which I found to be kind of dark and quirky. I wasn’t sure how his writing style would work for a middle grade novel, but he manages it quite well. While this certainly is not a light read, it isn’t dark either. There is still some quirky characters and an interestingly weird plot, but I think that it will appeal to many middle grade readers.
Sam Abernathy narrates the story, he is the younger version of a secondary character in Andrew Smith’s Winger books. I have not read those books, but that certainly did not keep me from enjoying this one. I found Sam to be a fun kid to spend time with, although he has his issues. PTSD, claustrophobia, and less than supportive parents. He also has been skipped two grades in middle school, YIKES! Half the time, I just wanted to hug Sam and tell him things would get better. One of the issues of being moved up is that now he has classes with the kid that he blames for his fall into the well. This is the start of a very unlikely friendship of sorts. It is Sam’s perceptions of James that are the most interesting parts of the story, especially as he learns how wrong he was about him. Finally you have to love a kid who enjoys cooking and experimenting with recipes.
James is another wonderful character. He is considered a bully through Sam’s eyes, but as Sam starts to get to know James he begins to see him in a new light. James ends up helping Sam cope with some other kids bullying and even rescues him more than once. James has his own issues as well, and it was nice to see Sam overcome his preconceptions of James to help him out.
I need to mention that Sam’s parents were my least favorite part of the book. They did not understand Sam at all, from not getting that he liked to cook, to planning his whole future without his consent. The interesting thing is that they weren’t hovering over him much, like I would expect them too after his rescue from the well. But they had weird expectations of him. I wasn’t sure what to make of Sam’s dad and his survival camping weekends. He was totally oblivious to how unhappy these made Sam. It was just sort of weird.
The plot alternates between present time and Sam’s time in the well. It is easy to tell which part is which. The chapters of the well time were interesting. Sam didn’t sound much like a four year old, he often sounded older. At times it seemed like Sam was recounting this time as an older child. Older Sam stated a few times that he didn’t remember much about being there. But memories have a funny way of surfacing and subsequently being distorted when they do. During his time in the well, Sam met Bartleby, a talking armadillo. My feelings about Bartleby switched back and forth. There were times that I sort of liked him, but mostly I found him annoying. But there were some interesting parallels between the past and the present that Bartleby helps to make. There is a nice surprise twist at the end too.
A great start for Andrew Smith’s first middle grade book. It makes me want to read the Winger books, just so I can see how Sam turns out later in life.