I’ve known of Sonya Sones since I began working in a library, but I never actually picked up one of her books. She’s been perennially popular, and I thought it about time to see just why. To Be Perfectly Honest was an excellent introduction and I am looking forward to becoming familiar with her back list sooner, rather than later.
As fair warning, this review is pretty spoiler heavy. So if you don’t want to know what makes this book the way it is, come back after you’ve read it for yourself.
Colette’s mother is a movie star, and this summer, she’s shuffling Colette and her little brother away from their home and the promise summer in Paris. They’re heading instead to a small town in California where she’s filming her next movie. Colette’s beyond bummed about this. But when she meets Connor, she starts to sing a little bit of a different tune. Maybe it won’t be so bad when there’s a cute boy around.
Something to know about Colette: she’s a liar. She lies about everything. And it’s not that she’s an unreliable narrator. She’s completely reliable — if you accept she’s a liar.
Colette and Connor are in love or so it feels. And when Colette tells her mother she needs alone time with Connor, away from her brother, her mother grants this wish to her. She even leaves a box of condoms, in order for them to be truly safe.
But Colette’s not ready for that quite yet. Even though she’s told Connor she’s 18 (she’s not — she’s 15) and that she’s sexually-experienced (she’s not — she’s a virgin), when the time comes for them to take their relationship somewhere more physical, she takes a stand and says no.
That’s when Connor gets back at her for her lies.
He wants to get with Colette so badly, he tells her he has cancer. He goes as far as to make himself look sick — a slick little trick Colette herself has tried in order to get attention. As a reader, I had a suspicion he was lying about this. Part of why my suspicions were raised was because up until this point in the story, I had been on board. I couldn’t wrap my head around Sones taking such an easy way out of the story. No way would this go down the road of making the reader and Colette feel bad for Connor now because he’s got cancer. I had much more trust in the story than that, and I am so glad I did.
But Colette is none the wiser, nor would she be. He’s convincing! His head is bald. He looks sick.
It’s all a rouse so he can get her to sleep with him. And yes, it’s a big charade for a sexual encounter, but as he tells her later, he’s gone further. It was a conquest for him. To make it more disturbing, he’s not 18 like he claims. He’s 21.
Since no sex goes down — Colette figures him and his lies out before it could happen — there’s no rape, no charges.
But now she wants to get back and get even.
Except, Colette comes around before the big “gotcha” happens.
The turnaround in Colette is believable and I was appreciative of it. I didn’t love her as a character but that’s why I was compelled by her. In fact, when she was prepared to take Connor for a ride herself, I was really invested. Would she REALLY go through with her plans or was this a rouse on us, as readers?
In the end, we don’t really know. Perhaps that’s what made the book successful for me as a reader, the never knowing whether what was going on was truth or if Colette was playing a big game upon us as readers.
I felt the end of this book was almost a cheap way out of the story. But I had to remember the main character is 15 — she’d just turned 16 at that point — and so it was less of a cheap way out and more of a realistic way out of HER story. I believe her and it, even if it wasn’t my favorite ending.
Sones masters verse novels. This is how verse works. It plays with the story, telling readers enough while leaving just the right amount UNSAID to make the reader wonder where and how Colette is leading us on. Her voice is spot on, and I thought the relationship she had with her learning-disabled younger brother was sweet and authentic. The wrap up with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend was a little schmaltzy for me, but it was believable in context of the story.
To Be Perfectly Honest is for YA readers who like challenging characters, who like verse novels, and who are good with “tough” topics like sex, drugs, and drinking in their books. Even though Colette is on the younger side, this is one to hand to younger teen readers only if they’re ready and like those topics tackled in their books (and many do!). I wouldn’t put this on the level of Ellen Hopkins in terms of content, but I’d say it’s a stepping stone to readers who will go to Hopkins down the road.
It’s possible I’ll talk about this in another post about repackaged book covers, but I wanted to say I love what they’ve done to update Sones’s books to appeal to today’s teens. They’ve gone through a few transformations, but these are by far my favorite:
They’re fresh and feel so contemporary. I love when books that are popular in the library, like these, do get new looks a few years after their publication because when it’s time to replace the battered or missing copies, they really do look new.
To Be Perfectly Honest is available today. Review copy received from the publisher.