Even before I read the first paragraph of True (. . . Sort Of), the stage was set by the dedication page: “For the children who don’t speak. And for those who hear them anyway and make a safe place.”
This is the story of Delly Pattison. Author Katherine Hannigan introduces her on the first page of the book in this way:
Delly Pattison was trouBLE: little trouble on the way to BIG TROUBLE, and getting closer to it every day.
Delly’s trouble wasn’t mean. It always started with her thinking something would be fun and good. It always ended with somebody yelling . . . And there Delly’d be, wondering how something that had seemed so right could go so, so wrong.
Delly’s trouble isn’t glorified as it is in some children’s books. She has a good heart that just takes her in the wrong direction sometimes. With the help of her brother RB, who tells her to count when she wants to yell or fight, and her new friend Ferris Boyd trains her to ask (not just do). Both of these help Delly a lot, as well as the motivation of wanting to make her mother proud.
As a parent, it was kind of hard to read Delly’s thought processes:
“I’m sick of feeling bad,” she grumbled. “I’m sick of getting in trouble and not knowing why.”
Her heart stopped hurting.
The mad was taking over. It felt better than being sad.
But taking these quotes out of context of the whole doesn’t give the right picture of the story. Yes, a parent (and another child) can understand how a trouble-maker can become (or come out of) a troubled child. But it’s really a story of second chances and friendship.
Ferris Boyd is a new kid, and she’s kind of weird. She doesn’t talk, you can’t touch her, and she looks like a boy with her short hair and baggy clothes. But something draws Delly to her and a real friendship, complete with the fun a secret fort getaway clubhouse, develops.
Ferris also has her own problems, like the mean man in the green car who she lives with. Delly doesn’t know what’s wrong, but she knows that something is not right.
This is a story full of tough issues like child abuse. There are no details given that make it too difficult for the age group (10 and up, I’d say), but it’s a sad reality. I loved the way that Katherine Hannigan made me think about the forgotten children — both the trouble-makers and those who stay silent — but what kid would want to read this kind of book?
My 12-year-old daughter Amanda doesn’t really like “sad stories.” But she had read this book last month, so I asked her if she liked it, and she did. I asked her if she thought it was sad, and she didn’t. It’s probably because it does end with hope and victory, for both Delly and Ferris, but also because the story is told with a lot of adventure (I did mention secret hideaways, but there are also donuts, and swimming holes, and ice cream). Delly is a fun, larger-than-life character who makes up words –like calling their special place a hideawaysis. This kind of folksy charm makes the story very kid-friendly.
And then I thought about myself. When I was around that age, I read books about foster kids, abused kids, girls who struggled with eating disorders, kids who died. And reading those books did in fact raise my awareness, and perhaps make me think that I might want to be a psychiatrist so that I could help people one day. I think that stories like True (. . . Sort Of) might plant the desire in a child’s heart to be a social worker, or a police officer, or a teacher so that they can be one of those who see.
If you or your child likes realistic fiction with heart, I think you’ll like this one. The fun (made up) vocabulary and chatty style of storytelling would make for a great read-aloud as well.
Jennifer Donovan never did become a psychiatrist, but she hones her listening and counseling skills with her job as a mom. She blogs at Snapshot.