Susan Juby might veto the label “Canada’s Queen of YA” in favour of something quirkier and more modest (perhaps “Canada’s Grand Poobah of YA” would be more fitting), but her wry, complex, and shocking seventh novel for teens proves she is deserving of either title.
The Truth Commission is written from the perspective of 11th-grader Normandy Pale. Normandy is the “author” of this story, which takes the form of a creative non-fiction project for a class at her elite, specialized arts school. Complete with footnotes, Normandy’s writing details the new passion she and her friends, Dusk and Neil, have developed for asking people direct questions about their lives as a means of bypassing gossip and fostering freedom from secrets (hence their self-appointed status as the Truth Commission). But the real high-stakes truth here surrounds Normandy’s sister, a graphic-novel prodigy who has returned home under mysterious circumstances that become increasingly more disturbing as they are revealed.
Juby’s characters are so smartly self-aware they make even John Green’s uber-witty and verbose teens look a little dim. Yet, despite their meta-analyses and some obscure pop-culture references, Normandy and her friends are still believable and relatable. In fact, the whole motley student body is portrayed so honestly and entertainingly that readers may forget they haven’t picked up a real work of creative non-fiction.
The humour here runs deep: sarcasm and self-deprecation are not easily paired with genuine heart, but they are in Normandy and her friends. While the stream of jokes is constant, the relationship between the trifecta is never cruel, even when conflict arises. Juby’s ability to use the most random and hilarious similes to perfectly pin down an emotion or situation is uncanny: “Her lies are like little Fabergé eggs: unexpected, intricately detailed, and completely and utterly pointless.”
The book, complete with a bombshell ending that is messily realistic and totally satisfying, is one you can (and should) embrace.