Book Review: Truthers

truthers cover

Girard, Geoffrey. Truthers. Carolrhoda Lab, 2017.

I should preface this review by admitting that I’m not fond of 9/11 conspiracy theories. I usually find them far-fetched, so much so that I initially resisted reading Geoffrey Girard’s Truthers despite the many Instagram posts and glowing reviews I found online. I was then able to meet Girard at the Books by the Banks Festival in Cincinnati. Not only was he friendly and personable, but I also learned that he was a fellow teacher. This latter bit of information persuaded me to give Truthers a try.

Sixteen-year-old Katie Wallace has spent much of her adolescence caring for her mentally ill and drug addicted father. When police and a social worker inform Katie that her father has been placed in a psychiatric hospital, she isn’t surprised. During her first visit with him, Katie’s father shares shocking information—he claims that Katie isn’t his biological daughter, and, even more staggering, her mother was a victim of a government orchestrated 9/11. He claims he took Katie from her mother’s arms before officials sent plane passengers to their certain death.

His claims spur Katie to frantically seek the help of an attorney. A high-profile lawyer says she’ll take Katie’s case if she’s able to prove that some of her father’s radical ideas have merit. What follows is a spiral of researching and investigating, leading Katie to uncover facts and coverups that surprise her. Amid her research, she meets teen prodigy Max, who challenges many of the theories while providing his hacking expertise. But Katie can’t shake the feeling that she’s wading into dangerous territory. Is she being watched? Will her actions have repercussions? Will she find the right information to free her father? Where is her biological mother?

Girard’s prose is masterful and suspenseful. From the beginning of the Truthers to the end, I felt a growing paranoia for Katie and many of the other characters in the novel. I was truly invested in the mystery at the core of Truthers, and my determination to uncover the next big plot twist kept me up late at night. Girard has obviously done his research as evidenced by the inclusion of many court cases, theories, and timelines; there’s even a works cited page at the book’s end.

Along the same vein, the abundance of information is perhaps the book’s weakest attribute. There are moments the text feels dense with figures, facts, names, and events. I would assume that teen readers, largely unfamiliar with some of the specifics of 9/11, might find themselves overwhelmed.

Most students are interested in conspiracy theories, so I could predict that Truthers would be a popular choice in a classroom library. No matter your feelings on the Truther movement, Katie’s end goal is admirable and involves something we ask our students to do every day—to back up claims with evidence.

Book Review: The Radius of Us

the radius of us cover

Marquardt, Marie. The Radius of Us. St. Martins Griffin, 2017.

I’ve never been a fan of traditional romance novels. This is not a slight against romance authors or the genre—I just find romance the least appealing aspect of a well-written story. But there is one attribute that will always compel me to root for a fictional couple. I love it when a broken character finds another broken character and a relationship ensues. There is perhaps no better example of this than Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us.

Gretchen’s life was irrevocably changed when she was assaulted and robbed on a dark Atlanta street. Since then, she has suffered from anxiety attacks, and is weary about going out in public or interacting with others. Now homeschooled, Gretchen spends her days working out complicated calculus problems, hanging out with her friend Bree, babysitting her two cousins, and trying alternative therapies to alleviate her trauma. When Gretchen sees a young man who bears a slight resemblance to her attacker, she panics, but later makes an effort to speak with him. She learns that his name is Phoenix, and she is surprised when she feels an immediate comfort and ease while in his presence. Will her feelings of peace turn in to something more? Can Gretchen work up the courage to rejoin society?

Phoenix’s young life has been full of heartache. He grew up in an area of El Salvador saturated with gang activity. He never knew his father; his mother became a nanny in the United States and left Phoenix and his brother in the care of his grandmother. Fearing for the safety of his family, Phoenix reluctantly joined a gang. When his brother was approached by the same group, Phoenix fled, and his journey eventually led him to Atlanta, and to Gretchen. Will he be able to protect his brother? Can he tell Gretchen the truth about his past? Will he be allowed to stay in the United States?

The characterization of Gretchen and Phoenix continually pulled at my heart as I read The Radius of Us. Their traumas have made them brave and selfless—Gretchen overcomes fear to help Phoenix and Phoenix gathers his own courage to help his brother. Almost every character in the novel displays a degree of kindness beneath a weary or tough exterior. The novel highlights the worst of humankind, but it leaves the reader believing in the goodness of his fellow man.

My complaints about the novel were mostly small. A character is named Ty Pennington, which is the name of an actual television personality. This threw me as I read, and I was surprised it wasn’t caught in editing. I also felt the narration became heavily focused on Phoenix and showed less of Gretchen’s perspective as the novel progressed; however, his story is so complex there is perhaps no way around that.

Most students are aware of the divisive ideas that exist when discussing illegal immigration. This novel could perhaps present a new perspective worthy of discussion. Furthermore, The Radius of Us encourages readers to consider their fears and ambitions, and to take risks that enrich their life and the lives of others. The inclusion of Marquardt’s novel in any classroom or curriculum would certainly be a positive addition.