Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: The Faraway Truth by Janae Marks

– Short Review –

A heart warming story about Zoe who finds herself more alone than usual one summer holiday.  Whilst hanging around the house, she intercepts the mailman one day and finds a letter from her, biological, father.  He was sent to prison before she was even born, for murder, and she’s never had any contact with him.  She secretly writes back and finds that the man who she’s always been told was a bit of a monster seems really normal and nice.  Can he really be guilty of such a serious crime?  Zoe digs deeper and finds a lot more than she bargained for.
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This is a charming story that mixes friendship, family and baking with the more heavyweight themes of racism and injustice yet doesn’t let it’s serious message overwhelm.

– Longer review –

The story starts when Zoe turns 12 and receives a letter from her biological dad, Marcus, who’s in prison, having been convicted of murder before she was born.  Her mum has never let her have any contact with him and she’s always got the impression that he’s just a bad guy that deserves to be locked away.  In his letter though he seems so normal, so nice and so she decides to, secretly, reply to see if she can find out a little more.
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So begins her summer of secrets and investigations.  She confides in her Grandma, who allows the pair to exchange correspondence via her address.  Marcus seems to like some of the same things as her and introduces her to a whole bunch of new songs, that become the soundtrack of her summer.  She starts to believe that he’s as innocent as he has always claimed to be, but what can she do to help?
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Her two best girl friends are elsewhere for the summer and she’s fallen out with Trevor, who lives next door.  However when Zoe confides in him their friendship is rekindled and they set out to find a missing witness who can testify that Marcus was with her when the murder allegedly took place.
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Trevor is no doubt motivated by the promise of cake and chocolate as Zoe is also flexing her baking muscles.   She really wants to appear in a cooking show (that sounds like the US version of Junior Bake Off) and is trying to invent a new cupcake flavour with which she can impress the owner of the local bakery, for whom she is working one morning a week.
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The book does tackle some fairly weighty topics – racism and injustice – but these are handled with a really light touch.  There’s no sense of this being a book that’s overwhelmed by it’s issues – at it’s heart it’s a mini coming of age story about trust, friendship & family and that sometimes you have to fight for something you believe in.
Whilst set in the USA this will easily transfer to the UK market because of it’s universal themes and appeal.
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A bright and fun debut with a set of really relatable characters, perfect for readers aged 9 and over.
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The Faraway Truth is published by Chicken House Books and is available here.
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Janae Marks

Janae Marks has an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Writing for Children from The New School. She grew up in the suburbs of New York City, and now lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter. The Faraway Truth is her debut novel.

Review by Angela Paull

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