Sadie, a witty, go–getter eighteen–year–old, has just graduated from high school and is preparing for her freshman year of college at the University of California in Berkeley. She dreams of becoming an architect and later traveling the world. But the reader is shown right away why her life is not so simple or easy.
Sadie lives on fictional Bowton Island, located in the State of Washington, within ferry distance of Seattle. The island is dominated by millionaire estates and has a booming tourism industry, but about ten percent of the locals are the unfortunate working class stuck with little opportunity except to staff the luxury hotels such as the Keppler. Sadie and her family are among those struggling just to pay for groceries. Sadie is a waitress at the Keppler, her mother is a maid there, and her father is a rather unsuccessful con artist who’s frequently put in prison. They live in an uncomfortable trailer—Sadie’s inspiration for architecture. Their family is so working class that at times they’re put in the bind of having to choose just between buying deodorant or milk or toothpaste. Sadie’s waitressing job can’t earn her enough to pay for out–of–state tuition, but luckily a few of her father’s tricks have rubbed off on her. She’s learned how to swindle people with small–time shenanigans such as misleading cashiers about how much change they’ve given or panhandling strangers while purporting to be raising money for school activities. Her little gimmicks pay off and, combining that money with her salary, she’s been able to make a deposit of four thousand dollars for Berkeley.
Sadie can’t wait to get away from it all—the money issues; the embarrassing trailer that gets too hot in the summer; her emotionally distant, jailbird father; her quirky mother who sits around in her bra while watching reruns of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire; and her taunting schoolmates and even teachers who’ve teased her about, and gossiped about, her unprosperous family. Everything is going well until her mother unexpectedly wipes out her savings to pay for her father’s lawyer and fix the bathroom. Sadie is reasonably furious, but, while out brooding about her predicament, she discovers there might be a much bigger con trick to make up the money again.
It turns out that there’s a girl named Ava McKenna, daughter of a wealthy family, who’s been missing since she was a toddler and would be the same age as Sadie. A computer–generated picture of how she would look today is nearly identical to Sadie and there’s a reward of $250,000. Not only can she pretend to be Ava, but there’s also the option of blackmailing a number of the witnesses whom Sadie and her best friend Brendan find out have lied about details of Ava’s disappearance. Sadie and Brendan gladly pull their best chicanery, lying and lying to uncover more and more information about the case and to get closer to the money Sadie needs to escape her working class trap.
I picked this book in spite of how the cover makes it out to be teenage chick lit. In many ways, it is that.
It’s romantic: Brendan doesn’t want Sadie to go away to college, because she plans to leave everything behind, including him, and he’s in love with her. There’s also another boy, a soon–to–be yuppie who’s taken in by Sadie’s lies and is falling for her.
It’s comedic: Sadie’s narration portrays her tough financial and family situation in a manner that’s comical and often light–hearted.
But I was quickly enjoying the story. Eileen Cook has written several novels and even in this brief, easy read, her writing experience really shows. She’s able to craft realistic characters with believable problems and reactions. Even though Sadie is in a tough situation that I would find very unpleasant, Cook’s writing is witty and uplifting. She gives away characters’ quirks in humorous flashbacks, description, and dialogue. I found myself rooting for Sadie and wanting her to succeed somehow in her plan and overcome her circumstances, while defining what types of relationships she would have with her love interests and family members.
The book is also a mystery, with Sadie and Brendan digging up clues and talking to various people to get slowly a clearer sense of what happened when Ava McKenna disappeared. At a point late in the book, it seems that they’ve gotten all the answers, but near the end is a plot twist that reveals there was much more to be explained.
Although the characters’ feelings are believable, there are a few parts where it gets sappy and trite. Sadie’s mother makes a confession that turns into a hackneyed tearful hugging moment in which both parties simply say “I’m sorry” and make up. When Sadie’s father makes a much more intense revelation, it’s resolved just as prosaically. The words Kodak Moment and Hallmark Card come to mind. I felt surprised and even disappointed about how easily they were all able to reconcile, when there were acts Sadie’s parents engaged in that were worthy of much more anger and sadness.
Finally, the ending was a letdown. It completely answered Ava’s disappearance and Sadie presumably was able to overcome her hardships, but she was thrust into a new situation with many potential issues. Did she like her new life and the new people in it? Was it as good as she had hoped or was it worse than it appeared? What would happen to her family? The story simply stops and leaves these questions unanswered.
Author: Eileen Cook. Book: The Almost Truth. Place of publication: New York, New York. Publisher: Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division. Date: 2012.