Tell Me Something Real
Author: Calla Devlin
Publisher: S&S/Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre/Themes: Young Adult, Contemporary, Family
Release Date: August 30th 2016
Page Count: 304
This ARC was provided by Simon and Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.
Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin is one of those books that would have completely flown right by my radar if I hadn’t been offered the opportunity to read and review it through Simon and Schuster Canada. I had never heard of this novel previously, but the synopsis totally had me intrigued and I just knew that I had to read it.
Tell Me Something Real tells the story of three sisters who are struggling to take care of their mother who is living with leukaemia. The girls and their mother travel back and forth between California and Mexico, where there is an experimental drug known as Laetrile that treats cancer, but isn’t legal in the United States. Their father is a workaholic, with a terrible boss, which makes it difficult to be there with his wife and daughters. Tell Me Something Real explores the relationship between each of these family members as they deal with their lives. Of course, there are many hidden secrets, and an ultimate betrayal, that will change this family forever.
Tell Me Something Real takes place in the 1970’s, not too long after the Vietnam war has ended. As stated earlier, the girls and their mother travel back and forth between their cozy home in California to a clinic in Mexico. There is a new drug on the scene known as Laetrile that is said to treat those who have cancer, but it isn’t scientifically proven to be true, making it illegal in the United States. I did a little bit of research as I was reading just to familiarize myself a little about Laetrile and I learned that it is a modified form of amygdalin, a poisonous cyanogenic glycoside that can be found in many plants. It can be potentially toxic or lethal when taken by mouth, due to cyanide poisoning. After reading all about that, I thought I knew where this book might be going, but I was completely wrong. There are twists and turns throughout this book that hit me in the face as if I ran straight into a brick wall. I didn’t see any of them coming and that was one aspect of this book that I thought was fantastic!
Tell Me Something Real is told from the perspective of Vanessa, the middle child of the three Babcock sisters. Adrienne being the oldest and Marie the youngest. Of the three, Vanessa is the most shy and timid. Adrienne is very in-your-face and confrontational. Marie is still the innocent baby of the group. Tell Me Something Real does a fantastic job in showcasing the family dynamic and relationship between the three sisters and how they all cope with their ill mother. While in Mexico, the girls meet a teenaged boy, named Caleb, who is also travelling from America in order to receive Laetrile treatments. The Babcock family eventually take in Caleb and his mother so that their trips back and forth are quicker and easier. As the story is told from Vanessa’s perspective, we learn more about her and her ambitions. We learn that she is a very talented pianist who had plans to apply to prestigious conservatories before her mother became sick. Tell Me Something Real does a great job in exploring the moral dilemma that Vanessa must deal with. Does she stay behind and help her sisters in caring for their mother, or does she continue with her dreams of becoming a professional pianist? Once a terrible secret is revealed, it becomes even harder for Vanessa to make this decision.
The story is told from the single perspective of Vanessa. As much as I love stories that are told from multiple perspectives, I think that the single perspective worked really well here. I felt as times that there was too much going on within Tell Me Something Real. There was the family dynamic, a mother dealing with cancer, a teen dealing with the decision to pursue her career in music, a teen experiencing her first love, and of course, there was that huge twist that completely turned this book upside down. While I loved this story, I think there were parts that maybe could have been left out. As much as I enjoyed learning about Vanessa and her passion for music, there was just so much going on that I’m not sure if it really added anything substantial to the story itself. Tell Me Something Real could have been just a strong by dealing with just the family and its experience with cancer and the twist that changed everything. Other than that, Tell Me Something Real was fast paced and exciting and I had a hard time putting it down.
Overall, Tell Me Something Real was such a pleasant surprise for me. As I mentioned, I had never heard of it prior to being asked to read and review it. I’m so glad that I was because it ended up being quite the wonderful, shocking and touching read!
More About The Author:
Calla Devlin is a Pushcart nominee and winner of the Best of Blood and Thunder Award whose stories have been included in numerous literary journals and in anthologies, including Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond, for which she was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle. Tell Me Something Real is her first novel.
I read this book as part of the #ReadThemAllThon for the Flame Badge!