Title: What I Thought Was True
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick (My Life Next Door)
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
From the author of My Life Next Door comes a swoony summertime romance full of expectation and regret, humor and hard questions.
Gwen Castle’s Biggest Mistake Ever, Cassidy Somers, is slumming it as a yard boy on her Nantucket-esque island this summer. He’s a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners who keep the island’s summer people happy. Gwen worries a life of cleaning houses will be her fate too, but just when it looks like she’ll never escape her past—or the island—Gwen’s dad gives her some shocking advice. Sparks fly and secret histories unspool as Gwen spends a gorgeous, restless summer struggling to resolve what she thought was true—about the place she lives, the people she loves, and even herself—with what really is.
A magnetic, push-me-pull-me romance with depth, this is for fans of Sarah Dessen, Jenny Han, and Deb Caletti.
Right off the bat, this book is under a lot of pressure. I loved Huntley Fitzpatrick’s debut, My Life Next Door, and loved it when I reread it right before getting to this book, so there’s a lot of pressure for this book to hold up to. While I didn’t love this book as much as MLND, I really did enjoy it and I know it’s going to stay with me for a while!
There are a lot of things that you don’t know at the beginning of this story. Gwen’s relationship with Cass, her love interest, has a lot of history that we discover over time. The withholding of information in a story can be really frustrating for me, and oftentimes it puts too much pressure on the story to really deliver with the huge secret (which it often doesn’t quite nail, and the secret ends up being even weaker because there’s so much pressure), but I didn’t mind it as much with this book and when I did finally get to the big reveal of the secret, I actually thought it was a huge deal and that it made sense that Gwen and Cass’s relationship was so complicated and difficult. So, even if you dislike books that withhold information, this book’s use of that trope still might work for you.
Much of the focus of this book is on Gwen’s relationships with Cass, her family, and herself. This is definitely a character-driven story, where you keep reading to see what’ll happen with these characters and to see if Gwen can fully grow and move past things and learn to accept herself. The whole story is building up to plenty of character growth and grief and acceptance and such in the last few chapters, but it never reads really slowly because you want to learn more about these characters.
And speaking of the characters, they’re pretty great. Like she did with MLND, Fitzpatrick has plenty of quirky but real family members, from Gwen’s little brother who doesn’t have autism but has some sort of developmental problem that makes his and his family’s life a little more difficult to her cousin who lives with them and is dating Gwen’s best friend. Gwen lives in a two-bedroom house with her mother, grandfather, little brother, and cousin, and her divorced father lives in a small, ramshackle house nearby, and they’re all just trying to make a live for themselves in an often difficult world. Like MLND, there’s a contrast between poor and rich characters, but this time we’re seeing things through the eyes of the poor Castle family versus rich families like Cassidy Somers, but they’re so much more than people who simply have little or a lot of money. Basically, what I’m saying is that the characters continue to be one of my favorite things about Fitzpatrick’s books, especially the families. One thing that I hope to see in her future books, though, is a female best friend who is just as loveable – it’s not that I really disliked Viv, Gwen’s friend and her cousin’s girlfriend, but I wasn’t a huge fan of her, and like Nan in MLND, something happens with her that doesn’t paint her in the greatest light (although there’s equal-opportunity-bad-painting with Gwen’s cousin as well, so I don’t think it’s a trait that targets female characters or anything).
This book takes place in a small beach town – you either have to give a great sense of the setting or it’s simply a waste, and Fitzpatrick did not waste the opportunity. I wanted to hear even more about this adorable but realistic little town. We got to see some of the behind-the-scenes work since Gwen and other characters are employees of various businesses around the island, including jobs that maintain the ideal beach vacation façade, so that added an even more interesting element to the setting that you don’t always see.
The Adult Situation
Even though Gwen does spend much of her time sans parents, but they’re definitely there. Gwen lives with her mother, a woman who is forced to clean houses for a living and put up with pretentious and elitist clients and then comes home to a small, crowded house where she shares a room with her teenage daughter while her elderly father, mentally challenged (but awesome and adorable) son, and teenage nephew are in the room next door – she doesn’t have an easy life at all, yet she manages to be a warm and caring mother who spends her time reading romance novels without feeling any shame. Gwen’s father is a bristly man who seems a bit unhappy that his life didn’t amount to much more and is tough on her daughter and nephew but ultimately still cares about them, even if he has difficulty showing that. They aren’t perfect parents, but they’re real parents, and I loved seeing Gwen’s interactions with them.
Every time I found myself feeling slightly disbelieving that a teenage boy could be so polite yet seem so genuine, another part of me was telling that part to shut up so I could enjoy the adorable romance. And adorable it was – it had plenty of problems, both in the present story and in the flashbacks spattered throughout, but when they were on the same basic page, and even when they weren’t, it was pretty darn adorable. Like most of the things in this book, I held it up against Samantha and Jase’s relationship in MLND, and even though this one came in a close second, I loved reading their scenes together just as much as the ones with Gwen’s family. It was also nice reading about a girl who has more experience than the boy and who seems to like sex and has to deal with the judgment that comes with that and generally being an attractive girl who is curvy (as I write this, I’m thinking of the recent and amazing #YesAllWomen tag on Twitter and wishing Gwen could read some of them talking about the unfair gender roles concerning sexuality so that she can see she’s not the only one dealing with all that shit).
I read the last 150 or so pages all at once – sure, I read it as fast as possible partly because I was refusing to let myself have lunch until I finished reading the book, but it was also because I wanted to see what would happen and I was enjoying myself! Things didn’t wrap up perfectly since that’s not how life works, but this book had a quick epilogue that takes place nearly a year later after their senior year is over that suggests the story is really over and doesn’t have as big of an opening for a sequel like MLND does. There could still be a sequel, but I was very satisfied with the ending and would be perfectly happy with this being the end of Gwen and Cass’s story.
So, while I didn’t love this book quite as much as MLND, this was a great story and I definitely recommend it. This book makes it clear that Fitzpatrick is not a one hit wonder and I’m even more excited for her future books.