With its broken spine and yellowed, sometimes fragile, pages, this book has seen a lot of love from me. It was first released in 2000 and I know that I read it at least once before we moved to France so I suspect that I read it for the first time when I was 11 or 12 years old. It underwent multiple subsequent re-readings, which was not something I did very often even at that age, so it must have struck a chord with me.
During my most recent shelf clean up session, I found Truth or Dare tucked away behind some other books. This surprised me as I’d thought it was still in France. After so many years I couldn’t remember very much about the plot and so, for reasons I won’t pretend to understand, I decided to revisit my childhood.
Presentation: Average-sized YA paperback with large, well-spaced type. My copy has 227 pages broken down into 27 chapters, but I believe that more recent editions have 30 or 40 pages fewer than mine.
Story: Joshua’s gran has just had a second stroke. Rather than putting her in a nursing home, his mother, Joanna, decides to go and live with her to take care of her. Josh is given no choice but to join her. Far from impressed with this situation, Josh retreats to his Uncle Patrick’s old room in the attic. There he finds a box of items that connect his interest in space and UFOs to Patrick’s interest in these same things. But Patrick is a taboo subject in this household. Gran, no longer quite fully there, drop some hints that maybe there’s more to Patrick’s story than Josh knows and Joanna finds herself revisiting the last year of Patrick’s life, the last year of her childhood.
Thoughts and impressions: The problem with revisiting books from your childhood more than ten years later is that they no longer hold that sense of awe that your memory insists was present all those years ago. It took me about fifty pages to remember what the “shocking twist” at the end was and after that it was all just refreshing my memory.
One of the problems was that, though I may have liked Josh ten years ago (maybe even sympathised with him), this time around his behaviour was at times irritating and voyeuristic (spying on the girl next door sunbathing using your dead uncle’s star gazing binoculars? Just no.) And what was with Katherine’s sudden change of heart? She rightly shows him up at the party but then she apologises for her actions and becomes a permanent fixture in the second half of the book. I didn’t buy that. There were better ways that that could have been handled.
The best bit by far was Joanna’s story of the events of the summer of space madness. This story was more engaging than Joshua’s and gave an interesting look at autism in a time before it was really understood. Any readers of this book should pay attention to the sometimes very subtle parallels between Patrick’s behaviour and his father’s. The grandfather is never portrayed as a sympathetic character but he does have layers that are sometimes only hinted at but expertly portrayed to show a link between him and Patrick.
And finally, the game. It comes in so far into the story that explaining it would mean delving into a whole bunch of spoilers so I’m not going to do that. But it is worth mentioning because at times I just could not follow what was supposed to be happening on the computer screen!
Style: Relatively simple but appropriate for the target audience. The narrative weaves between mostly Josh in the present day but sometimes also Joanna and Joanna in the past. This works well and neither story ever fails to be engaging.
Final verdict: So apparently this book appeals more to the younger reader in my experience. I still enjoyed the read but not as much as I remember having enjoyed it in the past. 3 stars
Extra notes: Aimed at and appropriate for a younger audience.