The Truth Commission Review
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According to the Biblical saying, “The truth will set you free.” But when three art students set out to uncover the truth about those around them in author Susan Juby’s young adult novel, The Truth Commission, they discover that the truth can be difficult...and messy...and sometimes painful, too.

The story is set up as a creative nonfiction project by art student Normandy Pale, documenting an experiment in the truth by Normandy and her two closest friends, Dusk and Neil. It all begins when the inseparable teens return to school and decide to confront one of their classmates about the cosmetic work that she clearly had done over the summer. With their first truth-telling a success, they set out to seek the truth from more of the people at their school.

While her friends eagerly search for the next subjects, Normandy is hesitant to go digging for the truth—especially since she and her parents have been actively avoiding their family’s truth for years. But once she’s forced to confront others’ truths, it makes her accept her own.

Told through the eyes of an eccentric yet highly observant teenager, The Truth Commission is a perceptive and often witty look at both the benefits and the dangers of facing the truth. While the writing-project format is understandable, though, it isn’t exactly necessary. And while Normandy’s abundant footnotes are often amusing, the ones specifically written as side notes to her teacher—commenting on aspects of her teacher’s personal life—can be distracting.

Fortunately, though, Normandy and her friends make a lovable trio of misfits. Though Normandy tries her best to remain in the background, quietly working on her embroidery or writing down her thoughts and observations, her best friends are exactly the kind of characters that you’d expect to find at a high school for artists. Neil is a gifted painter who lives with his playboy single dad and dresses like characters from his favorite movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Dusk (whose real name is Dawn) is working on a spring project that involves the taxidermy of shrews while actively disappointing her straight-laced parents—both of whom are doctors and want her to follow in their footsteps.

Normandy, meanwhile, makes a likable guide through the ups and downs of her friends’ truth-collecting mission. Though their reasons for approaching people at school sometimes seem rather misguided, the story becomes more interesting once it finally settles on the Pale family—and on Normandy’s difficult relationship with her mysterious older sister, a graphic artist who’s turned the family into blundering comic characters in her wildly popular series of graphic novels. Once Normandy begins exploring her sister’s truth, the somewhat awkward set-up no longer matters—and the quirky teen dramas give way to an intriguing examination of family dysfunction. What follows is anything but simple and straightforward—facing the truth rarely is—but it’s a smart and thoughtful story about growing up, moving forward, and confronting the cold, hard facts.

Like any teenager, The Truth Commission goes through its share of mood swings. It’s sometimes misguided, sometimes distracted, sometimes a bit too flippant. But once it hits its stride, it tells a moving and memorable (and often darkly funny) story about the pros and cons of telling the truth.

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