The Honest Truth
Author: Dan Gemeinhart
Published: January 27, 2015 by Scholastic Press
Summary: In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day.
But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from.
So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier–even if it’s the last thing he ever does.
The Honest Truth is a rare and extraordinary novel about big questions, small moments, and the incredible journey of the human spirit.
Ricki’s Review: In the introduction of the ARC, Dan Gemeinhart writes that this story was inspired by his friend Mark, who passed away from cancer. While the book is not about Mark, there are “smooth rocks of truth” within it. He wrote the story in hopes that Mark would enjoy reading it. With this in mind, I began the book already emotionally invested. Mark is a 12-year-old boy who has recently relapsed with cancer. He is tired of being sick, and he has set out with his dog and plans to go to Mt. Rainier to die. Much of the book is Mark’s journey to Rainier, and we slowly learn about his experiences with cancer throughout the story. Every other chapter is written by his best friend Jesse, and I found their friendship to be inspiring, particularly given the author’s introduction. This is a beautiful story that will leave a mark on readers’ hearts. I will be recommending it often.
Kellee’s Review: The Honest Truth was my first choice for my school’s faculty book club because I had only hear amazing things about it. I jumped into reading it without knowing anything about it, but by the end of the first page, I knew that all my friends who recommended it to me were right. Mark has a voice that is so full of hurt and sorrow that it jumps off the page and into your heart. The obstacles he faces and overcomes while also making his way to die alone show the strength of his character. I also was a big fan of the two points of view because it allows the reader to see what was going on at home and maybe get some more truth than what Mark was telling us (though he swears it all is the honest truth).
For our book club meeting, I tabbed up my book with passages I loved (I’ll list all the pages below), haikus that Mark wrote, and descriptions of all of the photographs he took along the way.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would make a fantastic read-aloud. It has so much to discuss! The richly realized themes would make for fantastic conversations in the classroom. I would love to hear students’ thoughts about the story, particularly in relation to the discussion questions below. There are many debatable points in the story—which makes it all the more interesting to use as a read aloud!
Additionally, The Honest Truth would be a good introduction to haiku and visual story telling since Mark writes haiku and takes photographs to help tell his story. The haiku (in chronological order) are found on pages 120, 8, 22, 78, 79, 130. The photos Mark took are explained on pages 226-227. Using these as mentor texts, students can create their own story using poetry and photography.
More discussion ideas can be found at http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/honest-truth-discussion-guide.
Discussion Questions: Was Mark selfish to leave home? Do you think he should have told his parents? Do you think what he did was fair? Were his actions fair to his dog?; If you were Jesse, would you have told authorities? Was she wrong to keep a secret? Do you think Mark had the ability to make such a big decision?; How did Gemeinhart use personification to help make the setting a character (see pages 34, 124, and 196)?; How much pressure do sick children have to act like adults?; How was Mark’s journey selfish? How was is selfless?; Who called? Wesley or Jess?; Why didn’t the mom ever look at her credit card report to see the train ticket?; Were you angry at Mark? Scared? How do you think students will feel?; Is a 12-year-old old enough to decide you want to die? Is it reasonable for adults to expect a kid to keep on going through treatment after treatment?
Flagged Passage: “Dogs die. But dogs live, too. Right up until they die, they live. They live brave, beautiful lives. They protect their families. And love us. And make our lives a little brighter. And they don’t waste time being afraid of tomorrow.”
Kellee’s favorite passages can be found on page 5 (“Here’s…”), 19 (“I bit…”), 21 (“I closed…”), 46 (“I was…”), 70 (“She knew…), 82 (“I like…), 97 (“Here’s…”), 179 (“They would…”), 212 (“And then…”), 228 (“There’s more…)
Read This Book If You Loved: “To Build a Fire” by Jack London; Hatchet by Gary Paulsen; The Call of the Wild by Jack London; Wonder by R.J. Palacio, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green