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'The Honest Truth' features a boy, a dog, and some very difficult decisions

A young boy who loves to climb mountains faces adult-sized challenges in this debut novel.

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    The Honest Truth
    By Dan Gemeinhart
    Scholastic
    240 pp.
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As much as I love a good dog tale, I do not love books about sick kids. Yes, I know a lot of young readers choose to have their hearts broken while reading. I usually stay away from those stories. But I’m glad I didn’t stay away from The Honest Truth. This debut novel, narrated by a middle-school boy and aimed at readers ages 9-12 is touching, smart, and a page-turner. That’s a big accomplishment for one book.

Young Mark loves to climb mountains. Though he’s been diagnosed with cancer, he’s not giving up. He and his dog Beau take off on a train to Seattle, determined to reach Mount Rainier.  The only person who knows where he might be headed is his best friend Jessie who is conflicted about what to do, whether to tell his parents and the authorities, and “How to help, when helping and hurting are the same.”

Mark has planned his adventure to the most minute detail. He’s saved enough money for food and transportation. He can’t shake the memory of his mom’s crying but he’s determined to throw his parents and the police off his trail. He’s left a secret note, discoverable by his best friend. Still, there’s no way he could have anticipated the trouble he’ll encounter along the way.

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Of course, that’s what makes the pages turn so quickly. Will Mark outwit the gang of thugs who follow him down the alley? Will the friendly waitress at the coffee shop see his picture on the television and turn him in? And most of all, will Jessie alert his parents? The short, interspersed chapters told in his friend’s voice are especially moving as we see her struggle with a decision that has no right answers.

And of course, there’s the dog. Beau is loyal, never leaving his master’s side. He’s got a very big heart. Gemeinhart makes us believe this little dog can do almost anything – and will – to protect Mark. When the boy is attacked, Beau comes out of his “duffel bag like hot burning justice. Like all the right kinds of anger.” Even a heart-breaking story is made better by a canine friend.

"The Honest Truth" was written as a celebration of and tribute to a friend of Gemeinhart’s who loved to climb mountains. It’s an adventure, a fitting homage to friendship, and yes, a dog book with the power and beauty to stick around for a very long time.

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