“Not all kids are best friends with their grandmothers. But I am,” narrator Robbie tells readers in the opening pages of The Truth of Me. Robbie’s parents are touring the world with their string quartet, so Robbie—along with his other best friend, his dog Ellie—are staying with Robbie’s grandmother Maddy for the summer.
Maddy isn’t like most grandmothers. She hates cooking (on a previous visit, she served Robbie doughnuts for dinner), preferring to spend time in the woods with her wild animal companions. Robbie’s mother questions Maddy’s unusual priorities, but Robbie loves Maddy the way she is. Her friend Henry, the local doctor, does too. During one of their frequent evenings together, Henry tells Robbie that everyone has their own small truths . . . and challenges Robbie to find one of his own by summer’s end. Does Robbie’s truth have to do with his suspicion that his mother loves her violin more than she loves him? Does it have to do with Maddy’s special relationships with the creatures of the forest? Or is some other truth out there waiting to be discovered—a story that belongs to Robbie alone?
Author Patricia MacLachlan, best known for the Newbery Medal-winning Sarah, Plain and Tall, once again demonstrates that simple language can be used to convey powerful ideas. Themes of friendship, family and the past’s relationship with the present blend with a touch of humor, and elements of both realistic fiction and magical realism combine so seamlessly that the exact transition between them is hard to detect. For example, is Maddy just a good dog trainer, or is some special gift at work when Ellie learns to coexist peacefully with the squirrels she used to chase? Did Maddy really once sit on a log and share cornbread with a bear? And since Robbie’s age is never explicitly stated, readers across the elementary school years can identify with him as he navigates a summer full of camping, music, animals and most of all, simple truths.