“The Honest Truth” isn’t your typical realistic fiction novel. It’s not the usual survival story. What you get when you read “The Honest Truth” is just that: the truth. Dan Gemeinhart has written a story that is brutally open and honest about what is usually a very sensitive subject: childhood cancer.
Told through alternating points of view, “The Honest Truth” is the story of Mark and how he has chosen to deal with his cancer that was previously in remission. Though he’s just a young boy, Mark has made a very grown up decision. He’s decided that instead of letting cancer determine his expiration date, he’s going to die in the way he chooses. Done completely in secret, Mark makes a detailed plan of a journey that will conclude at the top of Mt. Rainier. His only traveling companion is his dog, Beau.
Before he can climb his mountain, Mark has to survive many smaller obstacles. First, he gets beaten and mugged by a gang of young thugs. Beau is able to scare the attackers away, but not before they steal all but $20 of the money Mark needed for food and transportation. Mark has already survived cancer, so he’s not going to let a bloody lip or a black eye stop him from getting to Mt. Rainier.
Once he gets back under way, he needs to figure out how to stretch his remaining money across the hundreds of miles between him and his mountain. It would seem that it’s not just people out to get Mark, because shortly after he gets back on the road, a severe storm starts to approach. Now, he is being beaten by rain instead of fists. Weak, tired, and waiting by the roadside, Mark is picked up by a kind stranger. As they drive, the man becomes certain that he’s just taken in the missing boy he’s seen on the news. The man explains that his son died in Iraq while serving in the military. He tells Mark that his son’s unfortunate passing was made more difficult by the fact that he wasn’t able to be there for his son.
Even when he knows he’s helping the boy who’s run away from home, the stranger decides to see Mark to his destination. As they part, the man tells Mark that he’ll give him a headstart, but he can’t promise he won’t call the police to come and find him. At the base of the mountain, Mark prepares himself and Beau for their ascent to the top of Mt. Rainier.
Mark and Beau start their climb despite the storm raging in their faces. Although Beau tries to stop him, Mark continues to trek up the dangerous path to the peak. He urges the pup onward, despite the warning barks. Eventually, Mark comes to a deep crevasse that he and Beau will need to leap across in order to continue their climb. Mark jumps first and clears the gap. Because he won’t leave Mark’s side, Beau attempts to follow. But ice causes Beau to lose his footing, and he vanishes from sight. Miraculously, Mark is able to rescue his friend from certain death, and still they climb higher.
When Mark realizes that he physically can’t continue, he finds a hollow where he’s able to take shelter. Here, he reflects on his adventure and its purpose. Mark curls up, Beau at his side, ready to go to sleep once and for all.
This is the end that Mark was looking for, but this isn’t the end of his story.
Between chapters told from Mark’s perspective, we get to see what his family and friends are going through. Mark’s friend, Jess, figures out where he’s gone, and has to make her own tough decision: “Should she bring him back, and save him? Or save him, and let him go?”
As a reader, it’s difficult to say whether the actions of the characters are right or wrong. Was the stranger doing the right thing when he aided Mark in getting to the mountain? Should he have gotten him to safety or reported his location sooner? Maybe, because of his son, he was better able to make that decision than anyone else. Should Jess have shared her discovery about Mark’s destination as soon as she discovered it? Or did she do the right thing in keeping her friend’s secret? And what about Mark? Was he just in taking matters into his own hands, or did he cause his parents unnecessary grief when he ran off without their knowing? It’s easy for us to say what we would do, because we (or at least I) haven’t been in any of these positions. Sometimes we think we know what is right, but it’s easier to make that determination when we’re removed from the situation.
It might sound insensitive, but the hardest part of reading this book for me was Mark’s treatment of Beau. I kept thinking that even if Mark was justified in his decision to end his life on his own terms, he shouldn’t have involved Beau. Mark knew that his loyal friend Beau would never abandon him, even when his own life was at risk.
“The Honest Truth” isn’t a book you can read and keep to yourself. You’ll probably find yourself pushing it onto others so you’ll have someone to discuss it with! I can easily see readers having heated debates over the actions of the characters in the book, defending or condemning each one. At only 240 pages, you’ll likely tear through this book in one sitting! As you learn more about Mark, you may find that you learn something about yourself as well.
Title: “The Honest Truth”
Author: Dan Gemeinhart (connect with him on Twitter: @DanGemeinhart)
Publish Date: January 27, 2015
You might also enjoy: “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” by Donn Fendler
My recommended age range: 4th-8th