Fitzpatrick brings back the elements that made My Life Next Door so utterly charming. There’s a sweet romance and, more importantly, realistic portrayals of so many kinds of families. What I Thought Was True manages to walk that line between being fluffy and being dark perfectly well. It’s both inspiring and believably realistic. It’s not the sort of book where everyone rides off into the sunset and their story feels complete. They head off into the rest of their lives, and will grow into different people, but that’s a good thing.
The only weakness What I Thought Was True had for me was that it took a while for me to get really invested. There are quite a lot of flashbacks and withheld information at the start, so I wasn’t sure what to make of anyone, including the heroine, Gwen. However, as things began to unravel, my heart went out to her, this beautiful, insecure, intelligent, hard-working, loving girl. Gwen’s been helping to raise her younger brother, Emory, who’s not autistic, but is definitely different somehow. She’s been working to help support the family since she could legally help out in her dad’s diner.
Believe it or not, though, Gwen actually has a really bad reputation. And, no, what people say about her is not all lies. Of course, it’s not all truths either, because gossip never is. Gwen has had one night stands, a fact with which she has a complicated relationship. She always wanted the sex and she doesn’t blame anyone but herself, but she also can’t escape feeling like a worthless slut. My heart went out to her forever when she said this, totally honestly:
“I’m really not the kind of girl who gets walked to the door.”
That sound you hear is my heart smashing into pieces on the ground. Society seriously does a number on women. Gwen’s had sex and, though it’s 2014, she’s made to feel like some sort of Hester Prynne for it, even though it was consentual, safe, and involved no infidelity. All of her bad thoughts about herself are the result of the sort of pernicious slut-shaming so common to society. The people who know her well and love her best even question her choices and subtly shame her, without even meaning to. At the same time, guys with similar representations are rewarded with popularity.
Of course, this is a Fitzpatrick novel, so this is not a condemnation of sex. What I Thought Was True goes on the list of sex positive YA novels, which is sadly rather short. On top of that, Fitzpatrick resists the trope of the first love being the last, which is so common in YA. She shows how strong relationships don’t always make it and that love isn’t always enough. Not only that, but What I Thought Was True overthrows stereotypes, like having women be the less experienced in relationships and the idea that women do not have sex drives:
God, isn’t it supposed to be the guys who can’t think straight? Whose bodies are screaming at their brains to just shut up because everything feels so good? Or is that another rumor someone started? Without thinking who it was going to hurt. Or just confuse.
This myth, that men enjoy sex more than women do as a rule, may not seem harmful, but it tears Gwen up. She feels like a monster, a deviant, for enjoying sex. That’s not healthy and it’s not a way that people should be made to feel. Books like What I Thought Were True help to change that and put the truth, that everything is more complicated, into the world. Bravo, Huntley Fitzpatrick. This is one of the healthiest YA novels dealing with sex that I’ve read, and I can’t urge it on you enough for this aspect alone.
In case that’s not enough to convince you, though, this book has so much more to offer. As I touched on earlier, the family elements of the book are amazing as well. Fitzpatrick shows a wide range of families, mostly non-traditional. Some of them function in their own strange way, and some of them don’t, but none are perfect. Gwen’s parents are divorced and at any given time a couple of them are usually fighting, but ultimately they do all love each other. The family is Gwen, Emory, father (who lives separately), mother, Grandpa, and Nic, Gwen’s cousin, who was raised basically as a sibling since his mom couldn’t handle parenting. My favorite family member was the grandpa, who’s Portuguese and a total shipper. He rather reminded me of the grandpa in Moonstruck.
By the end of the novel, I know something about the families of all of the significant characters. That is so rare. But, let’s be honest, when you’re a teenager, your family is a huge part of your life, whether you want them to be or not, so that stuff comes up. This is part of why Fitzpatrick’s novels and characters come alive in a way that isn’t often found in fiction.
Fitzpatrick also doesn’t neglect what so many YA novels do, which is planning for life after high school. A lot of YA fiction happens in a vacuum where no one worries about college or careers. I don’t know about everyone else, but I was thinking about college from sophomore year on, so I really love when books include elements of planning for whatever the teens might want to do next. All of the main teen characters in What I Thought Was True are considering this, and I love that so much.
Oh, I also need to give a shout out to Mrs. Ellington, an elderly woman for whom Gwen is working over the summer. This woman is fantastic. The only other wish I have for What I Thought Was True was that Mrs. Ellington didn’t completely disappear from the story for chunks of it. She’s an old woman with an active social life, a lot of opinions, and a deep love for romance novels, both for sheer joy and the fun of snarking them.
Finally, before I conclude this incredibly long review, I want to speak to the romance, because of course I do. At the beginning, I really wasn’t sure if I’d be a fan of this ship, and I was afraid it would ruin the book for me. Let’s just say that it took me a bit of time to come around, just like it took Gwen some time to warm up to the idea. Fitzpatrick really made me root for them, and the evolution of the relationship is a thing of beauty, respectful and bantery and argumentative all at once. Their problems are their own, and not the cause of absurd drama.
The Final Verdict:
In case you couldn’t already tell from the freaking treatise I just wrote, I loved this novel on so many levels, and I think it’s a must read for its take on sexuality, not to mention the fact that Fitzpatrick is a genius at characterization. Huntley Fitzpatrick’s been highly buzzed for a reason: she deserves it. She’s officially on my auto-buy list.