The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart – Review by Sarah Krajewski
“Okay everyone, time to put those bookmarks back in and take a look up here. I’m thrilled to say that I have a new favorite book to share with you all, and you’re the first class to hear about it.” Faces turn to look at each other with their eyes bugging out. I can hear the wheels turning. She’s calling it a favorite? It must be good! Eager faces wait patiently to hear what comes next.
I sit down on my stool and begin slowly. “In so many ways, Mark is a typical boy. He loves adventure, his sweet, loyal dog Beau, his best friend Jessie, and writing haikus in his notebook. When Dan Gemeinhart’s debut novel The Honest Truth opens up, Mark is buying a bus ticket so he can go climb Mount Rainier. If you know anything about this mountain, you probably know that it’s the tallest one in the state of Washington, and also one that still is considered an ‘active volcano.’ That’s a tough climb for any expert, let alone a young boy like Mark, and all he has with him is Beau, a little bit of money, his notebook, and a lot of ambition. Oh, but there’s a problem. You see, Mark is sick. He’s been battling cancer for years. He isn’t just climbing the mountain for an adventure; he is going up there to die.”
Mouths drop and hands shoot up. I hear “I call it!” and “No, it’s mine.” I didn’t even read an excerpt yet, so I open it up and read the first three pages. Three more hands fly up. I smile, knowing there is going to have to be a waiting list.
As the school year winds down, so does the waiting list. The Honest Truth is probably one of the few books in my classroom that is always finished, and finished quickly. Though I may have guided my students toward this book, it’s Gemeinhart’s beautiful language and characters that made them fall in love with it. His novel may be geared toward middle school students, but my 9th graders adored it. They trusted and respected Mark, for he spoke the truth, like it or not. They described him as courageous and strong when they saw he was determined to live the way he wanted to. They cherished the relationship between best friends Mark and Jessie. They felt for Jessie when she found out that Mark’s cancer had, yet again, returned. They understood her dilemma when she refused to share where she knew Mark had gone. She was the ultimate best friend, and they loved her for that. The relationship they treasured most of all had to be the one between Mark and his faithful dog Beau. As one student put it, “Beau is the dog we all wish we had.” The love and admiration he had for Mark made him a true hero time and again. His acts of bravery brought tears to our eyes more than once. This book truly has a remarkable effect on those that read it.
Just last week, a quiet, sporadic reader came bounding into my classroom before Homeroom started. Out off breath from the three flights of stairs he just ran up, he huffed and puffed, “Ms. K…I need…another book…like The Honest Truth. What other books…did he write?” As the shock of this student’s visit quickly wore off, I showed him Dan Gemeinhart’s website. I told him this was his only book as of now, but he hints at plans for another one. I then found a few other titles for him to browse. “So Ms. K, are they as amazing as The Honest Truth?” He knew the answer before I even spoke. I had to tell him the truth.
Sarah Krajewski is a dedicated 9th grade English teacher at Cleveland Hill High near Buffalo, New York. She has received the New York State English Council’s Program of Excellence award for a poetry unit she developed with another teacher using popular music, as well as NCTE’s Leadership Development Award, all before her fifth year of teaching. Sarah is in her thirteenth year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. She is anxiously awaiting another trip to the NCTE Annual Convention to expand her literacy knowledge. At school, she is known for her dedication to her students and for being a devoted reader who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three avid readers. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.