The Honest Truth

First published in the “Briefly Reviewed” section of Frogpond 39:3, Autumn 2016, pages 117–118.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart (2015, Scholastic Press, New York). 232 pages, 5¾×8½ inches, hardback. ISBN 978-0-545-66573-5. $16.99 from Amazon.

There’s haiku in them thar hills. This profoundly sad young adult novel tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy with terminal cancer who tries to fulfill his goal of climbing Mt. Rainier before he dies. Mark runs away from home with his dog and faces many challenges by himself in his quest to reach Seattle and then the mountain. He leaves behind his family and his best friend Jessie, with whom he writes haiku. The chapters alternate between them, and nearly always include a haiku. Mark wrestles with the dangers of his trip, and Jessie wrestles with whether to reveal Mark’s secret destination. The poems are not skilled as haiku (merely counting syllables), but in the voices of the two children they serve as poems they are likely to write. As a sample, the first poem is “Alone, leaving home, / A new journey, a new road, / Off to mountains now.” The book is peppered with about 34 haiku that serve as a way to bond Mark and Jessie. Highly recommended story. Be prepared for the sad yet unexpected ending.