High school sophomore Patty Ho has it pretty difficult these days. Her Taiwanese mother does nothing but criticize the parts of her that are imperfect, her white father has been absent ever since Patty can remember, and her older brother can do no wrong in her mother’s eyes. At school, she doesn’t fit in with the white kids because she’s half-Asian and doesn’t fit in with the Asian kids because she’s half-white. Because of her fear that Patty will end up married to a white guy and living in destitute if she doesn’t get a quality education, her mother sends her to math camp at Stanford for the summer. Just when Patty writes off her summer entirely and decides that she’s going to spend the next four weeks in math geek hell, things start to get a little interesting… as in, a new friend, a love interest, and the discovery that she may just enjoy being a smart kid.
Ever since reading North of Beautiful (one of my favorite reads of the year) I’d been planning to read more by Justina Chen Headley. So when I saw this one at the library, I couldn’t resist! I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by it like I was North of Beautiful, and I definitely wasn’t, but it was still a solid young adult novel that I really enjoyed.
Patty was a very realistic teenager. I can’t imagine what it would be like to feel like such an outsider in one’s own life. She truly didn’t believe that she belonged anywhere, based on her “hapa” (half and half) status. To make things worse, her mom put so much pressure on her to be perfect that she was bound to disappoint her mother at some point. While her mother did seem pretty stereotypical for an Asian mother, I have to say that in high school and college I had a large group of friends that included many Asian kids, and without exception, ALL of their mothers treated them in the same kind of way that Patty’s mother did. Of course there were varying degrees of harshness, but they were all extremely hard on their kids and put immense pressure on them to succeed at any cost. So while she seemed a bit overdone in the book, based on my experience I found Patty’s mother to actually be quite realistic.
I didn’t love the romantic element that the book had. I just did not find Stu to be all that charming, and I could have predicted what ended up happening in their relationship from the beginning. But still, it was nice to read about Patty finally gaining some confidence in herself and the understanding that she was beautiful and intelligent, and any guy would be lucky to call her his girlfriend. The fact that it had to be Stu – well, that’s an unfortunate aspect to the book, in my opinion.
While Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) won’t make my favorites list for the year, I would recommend the book to teens. Patty is a strong, smart heroine who really finds herself as the novel goes on. Having now read two books by Justina Chen Headley, I’ll still continue to read more by her as I definitely enjoyed this one.