Friday, January 25, 2008

Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies)
by Justina Chen Headley

Published in 2006. 241 pages.

First sentence: While every other freshman is at the Spring Fling tonight, I have a date with an old lady whose thumb is feeling up my belly button.

Last sentence: And that is the whole yin-yang truth about me, the one and only Patricia Yi-Phen Ho.

Brief summary of the plot (from Headley's website): Hapa (Half Asian and half white) Patty Ho has never felt completely at home in her skin. Life at House Ho is tough enough between her ultra-strict Taiwanese mom (epic-length lectures and all) and her Harvard-bound big brother. But things get worse when a Chinese fortune teller channels Patty's future via her bellybutton ... and divines a white guy on her horizon. Her mom then freaks out and ships her off to math camp at Stanford. Yes, math camp. Just as Patty writes off her summer of woe, life starts glimmering with all kinds of probabilities.

Why I read this book: I was looking for Asian or Asian-American authors for the Expanding Horizons Challenge when I stumbled upon Justina Chen Headley. Nothing but the Truth, which won the 2007 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, was her debut novel. It appealed to me greatly, and I decided that it would be a perfect for both Expanding Horizons and the Young Adult Challenge.

Connecting with this book: One of the reasons this book first appealed to me is that I am the (white) mother of two Hapa daughters (and a Hapa son) whom I want to feel comfortable with - even celebratory about - their "halfness." I think I fell in love with Patty Ho when I read this on Headley's website:

Why did you write Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies)?
A couple of years ago, I took my kids to the Children’s Museum. A group of teens hung-twung-wung’ed us (you know, mocked us with pseudo-Chinese). That night, my character, Patty Ho, started giving a soliloquy about what it feels like not to fit in either at home with her ultra-strict Taiwanese mom or at her high school. Her observations were so wry, I started to laugh, which probably accounts for why the other runners on my path veered out of my way (or not).

I also felt connected with this book because of the math camp aspect - since I am a bit of a math geek myself, as well as the daughter of a (female) math geek, the sister of a (female) math geek, and the mother of a (female) math geek. Finally, despite my "wholeness" as a Caucasian, I can relate well (as I suspect many people can) to feelings of not quite fitting in, of being "other." This is a great read for anyone who relates to that!

For more information: Justine Chen Headley's fun website is here. There is information there about her second young adult novel Girl Overboard, which is definitely on my to-read list. You might also want to check out the great review of Nothing but the Truth that Jen Robinson, who chose it as one of her favorite books of 2007, wrote (it's here).



  1. I missed the review on Jen's site (thanks for the link!). This one does sound like a lot of fun.

  2. I'm thinking that I'll pick this up for my Japanese-American kids. They might really be able to relate to the main character's identity issues :)

  3. I'm glad that you liked the book so much, Alison. And thanks for linking to my review. It was indeed one of my favorite reads from last year.

  4. Girl Overboard just came into my library and I've been thinking about reading it. And I remember when this one arrived, too. Thanks for the great review, I really liked your connecting element.

  5. I am going to reveal my ignorance, but, I hope also, my desire to know - what does Hapa mean? I am assuming it refers to a culture or nationality, but it is a term I'm unfamiliar with.

    I really enjoyed your review, Alison. This book sounds good. I love novels that help us expand and challenge our views of ourselves and others.

  6. This book--and Justina Chen Headley's newest books--are on my list of books to read. I look forward to reading them both. She sounds great.

  7. Just discovering your blog through the Expanding Horizons links, and I really love the way you do your reviews. This book sounds nice too.
    (PS. I wasn't able to comment with my usual Wordpress account, as your blog seems to allow only Google users...)
    Francesca (Scribacchina)

  8. Very nice review. It seems like all of the Expanding Horizons selections are so dark and somber (including mine), it's nice to see something more contemporary and "lighter".