Kit Pearson is a national treasure. Decades of children have grown up feasting on her novels, holding her characters and delicate life lessons close to their hearts. As an experiment, drop the word Gairloch* into a conversation with women under the age of 35 and see how many of them start gushing about Kit Pearson**. So it goes without saying that a new Kit Pearson novel is a major literary event. The Whole Truth does not disappoint.
Canada, 1932. Shy Polly and her bold older sister Maud have been taken in by their estranged Scottish grandmother after the shocking and untimely death of their father. They’ve traveled halfway across the country, from Winnipeg to a remote island off the coast of B.C. to Gran’s house, where there is no indoor plumbing, no electricity, and a whole host of friendly, gregarious strangers and more than a few chickens. When Maud takes off for boarding school less than a week after their arrival, Polly is not sure she can survive. But within a few months she has a new friend (easy going Biddy), a new hobby (painting), and a new pet (the naughty but lovable Tarka- you can tell Pearson adores dogs by her loving and accurate descriptions of him). But on the edge of all this happiness is the truth that Polly and Maud have sworn to keep secret, the truth regarding their father and his unusual demise.
The missing/dead father plot adds tension and mystery to to the story, but for me it takes a backseat to the wonderful coming of age portrait Pearson has created in this novel. Watching Polly bloom is an absolute pleasure. Pearson manages to bring her young protagonist out of her shell without straying from the bones of her character. I enjoyed Polly’s struggle with meat-eating, given her tender hearted feelings towards animals. Her relationship with the headstrong and fiercely opinionated Maud is aptly complicated and gives Pearson a stage to explore Polly’s growing autonomy. I love how Pearson surrounds Polly with a cast of warm and loving characters that are far from perfect, but provide the support that Polly was previously missing in her life.
Pearson’s gifts as a writer are innumerable, but what makes her books classic is her uncanny ability to understand and empathize with the adolescent mind. She taps directly into the core of childhood and addresses all of the fears, anxieties, and joy of that narrow slice of time between the ages of 9-12. She is one of my writing mentors, a gifted wordsmith who has perfected the art of the middle grade novel***. Her books always feel timeless, regardless of the era they are set in, which just proves that great writing never goes out of style.
The Whole Truth will be available in hard cover this August from HarperCollins Canada.
*I still, to this day, when imagining my dream cottage, picture Gairloch as described in Looking at the Moon.
**And it’s not just my generation. This winter I did a school visit and a clutch of 12 year old girls asked me if I had read any Kit Pearson books. I told them I had, and after much squealing we had a rousing discussion about whether or not it was a good idea to include so much Gavin in The Lights Go On Again. My take? Kit Pearson can do no wrong. The Guests of War remains one of the best trilogies for children.
***Personal aside. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Pearson at the store in the fall of 2007 when A Perfect Gentle Knight came out. She was kind, humble and just as lovely as you hope she would be. My signed copy of A Perfect Gentle Knight, due in part to the thoughtful personal inscription she wrote in my book, remains one of my post precious possessions.