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What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn

What We Hide

by Marthe Jocelyn

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Marthe Jocelyn’s What We Hide was a completely unknown quantity when I picked it out. I’d never heard of it before it appeared in the YABC book haul, the cover tells me nothing, and no one I know has read it. Books like this don’t come along often, but it’s always a joy to find a hidden gem like What We Hide. This book has so much to love, for readers who appreciate slower-paced, thoughtful fiction. Through brilliant use of multiple points of view, What We Hide tells the story of a small British boarding school’s inhabitants.

Through the course of What We Hide, Marthe Jocelyn touches on a lot of important themes. While I can’t say she deals with any of them in a deep way, I think the novel promotes thought and understanding in a really healthy way. My favorite discussions were those of The Vietnam War and of homosexuality. What We Hide is set in the early 1970s, and the draft is what creates the frame story for the novel. Jenny’s brother Tom has to go to college to escape the draft, and his parents want to be sure that he won’t get pulled anyway by sending him abroad. Jenny, though not at risk, gets to go to a nearby British boarding school for a semester. Though the Vietnam War is very distant from the plot itself, it does come up in small ways throughout, and I really enjoyed that aspect.

Marthe Jocelyn tells this story from a bunch of different perspectives and even uses some different formats. Most of the narration is straight forward first or third person, but Oona writes letters and Percy writes film scripts. Mixing styles like this is very tricky to pull off, but all of the narrative really worked for me, and there weren’t a lot of quick switches which helped keep things clear. I’m very impressed whenever authors do multiple POVs well and Jocelyn succeeded I am proud to say. Aside from the perspectives being distinct and fitting the characters, they were all interesting. When the POV switched, I was always okay with it, and glad to get new information.

There’s not a whole lot of plot to What We Hide; it’s very much a portrait of this place and time. The multiple points of view enable the reader to see the small group of characters from all angles and really delve into their characters. You get to see what Oona, for example, says about herself and then see how others react to her. It builds a fuller picture than just one perspective and leaves the reader to make a few judgment calls on precisely what went down in some cases.

As the title suggests, the real point is that everyone is hiding something. They all have secrets that they’re keeping, and the ending shows a couple of them getting past that and owning up to their lies or pretenses. Jenny’s pretending to have a boyfriend off at war. Nico’s pretending he doesn’t have a famous mother who wrote about his childhood. Percy’s hiding his famous dad who never visits. Robbie and Luke are hiding the fact that they’re gay. Brenda’s keeping the school doctor’s inappropriate touching quiet. Oona’s trying to keep her betrayal from her best friend. My favorite plot line was definitely that of Robbie and Luke, which is pretty heartbreaking, because they’re so cute and people are such assholes.

What We Hide could benefit I think from a bit more direction, but I did still find it a satisfying read, and I greatly enjoyed its uniqueness. It’s not the typical high scandal boarding school book. It’s slow and thoughtful and beautiful for those who appreciate these sorts of more experimental stories. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Feb 8, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was a compelling read dealing with teen emotions and decisions against the backdrop of the 1960s-70s era of social change and evolution. The characters were very well drawn, and I find myself thinking about them even after finishing the book. Their actions were sometimes questionable - I suppse everyone's are at some point - but you were definitely rooting for them regardless. The slang was a bit hard to handle - it was meant to put the british accent in your head while reading, but i found it detracted from the flow more than helped it - but I did learn some interesting new words! I would recommend this book! ( )
  lefthandeddrawing | Aug 16, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This review was originally posted on May 22, 2014 at http://canlitforlittlecanadians.blogspot.ca/2014/05/what-we-hide.html

I can't imagine a freer time than the 1960's and early 1970's when there were calls for "Love, Not War", when peace symbols aapped bribe to convert the little sister. Happy birthday kiddo. The world is lucky to have you. I’m especially lucky. And I swear I’d kill anyone who ever tried to hurt yound drugs were everywhere, and when contraception helped support the idea of free love. Strangely, the young people in "What We Hide" should be immersed in all that liberating freedom, standing up for their views, and not taking any directions from the establishment. Yet these teens have their heads and hearts in two worlds: the traditional, even old-fashioned world more typical of their parents and school administrators, and the experimenting, liberal explorations of their peers. What they choose to hide is all rooted in their conflicting ideas of right and wrong, wants and needs, smart and ignorant, and childish and mature.

To help her older brother evade the draft for the Vietnam War (sadly something his best friend Matt chose not to do), Jenn accompanies Tom to England where he will attend Sheffield University and she Illington Hall, a boarding school, nearby. The new milieu allows Jenn to become the American Jenny with the (imaginary) boyfriend Matt who is fighting in Vietnam. Except for occasionally hearing from Tom who is heavily into smoking weed and avoiding contacting Matt, Jenny's world is Illington Hall, her new friends and misdirecting them to maintain her story. But Jenny is just one of the narrators in "What We Hide" who reveal in the text that which they won't share elsewhere.

There's Robbie a local boy who knows he's gay but keeps it from everyone, especially his 18-year-old brother Simon, whose sexual exploits have already made him a father and has him engaged to marry another pregnant girl. Robbie meets a boy from the boarding school, Luke, who never knew he was gay and, although smitten with Robbie, is still trying to discover whether he might like girls if he just found the right one. Luke and sister Kirsten come from a seemingly perfect family, or so classmate Penelope believes, until she finagles an invitation from them for the weekend. And Penelope, whose aggressive attitude suggests that she'd have sex with anyone and it wouldn't be a big deal, has a big secret about her mother that she won't share. Another classmate, Percy, too has a secret is about his parent but one that could bring him popularity or shame.

I haven't even mentioned Nico, who is the school's heart throb and whose intimacy with his girlfriend Sarah is well known. But now that Sarah has returned home to Toronto, who is in Nico's line of sight? Jenny? Oona, Sarah's best friend? What about Brenda, the sister of the mother of Simon's son? She's a local but she attends Illington Hall as a day student, always straddling the line between the unrefined life of a local and the ambitious scholarship of her boarding school.

How Marthe Jocelyn, who could not have been old enough to have experienced this era, could accurately portray the thoughts and actions of Jenny, Robbie, Luke, Penelope and all their peers is astounding to me. She has covered the full gamut from naive to promiscuous (though it is the time of free love, right?) and brash to reserved, but the confusion that seems to predominate the teen years is always there, regardless of background, wealth, family, friends, or intelligence. These young people are all trying to find out who they are, wanting to be someone: a cherished son, a first love, a supportive sister, a sympathetic friend. But wanting to be someone is not enough to make it happen.

"Maybe I'd been hoping for a miracle, but I thought I'd be someone else by now. I thought at least that I'd be . . . someone." (pg. 258)

But like all stories based on secrets or lies (misdirections, as Percy calls them), the truth will eventually be uncovered, for good or bad. Marthe Jocelyn makes it clear that the drama swirling around all these hidden truths in "What We Hide" is what takes the energies of these young people. Sadly they don't know that the issues which are consuming them are real and significant as they are but creating dramas enfold these concerns just compounds them. Some come to that realization more swiftly than others but still with heartache (Penelope recognizes that, "There is only me to blame for where I am. There is only me." [pg. 197])

While I feel for these young people, wishing that they could trip through their teen years with more spirit and less angst, Marthe Jocelyn makes it clear that they will deal as they can, and things will work out or not, but they have the capacity to learn more about themselves through these hardships, regardless what they hide. ( )
  HelenKubiw | Aug 5, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I loved the way the characters were written. Their stories were compelling and engaging, and while parts of the book took me out of the story (primarily frustrations with character's actions), I really did enjoy it and feel it was well written. My concerns lie mostly in the fact it felt very disjointed at times; as though things were happening here and there, but could have been strung together a bit more. I would have liked to go deeper, and have had more of a sense of completion. As a glimpse into these personal lives, it was very good, but I felt it was not quite your traditional narrative with climax and closure. I think this is more of a personal preference than anything, though.
  foldedleaves | Jun 10, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What We Hide is quite different to Marthe Jocelyn’s earlier novels. The story is set in an English boarding school in the late 1960s, and is told from multiple perspectives using a few different writing forms.

The novel is a compelling read, and certainly holds the reader’s interest, but I did feel as though it was awash with British slang (I grew up in the UK, and still had trouble with keeping up with the amount of new vocabulary introduced throughout the book). I also wonder if the eight different perspectives was too many; it was difficult to keep track of the characters when reading. Despite these criticisms, the author is to be commended for focusing on an interesting period in our recent history; the plot strand about Jenny’s brother avoiding the draft and his best friend serving in the military was particularly well done. ( )
  chazzard | May 29, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385738471, Hardcover)

Americans Jenny and her brother, Tom, are off to England: Tom to university, to dodge the Vietnam draft, Jenny to be the new girl at a boarding school, Illington Hall. This is Jenny's chance to finally stand out, so accidentally, on purpose, she tells a lie. But in the small world of Ill Hall, everyone has something to hide. Jenny pretends she has a boyfriend. Robbie and Luke both pretend they don't. Brenda won't tell what happened with the school doctor. Nico wants to hide his mother's memoir. Percy keeps his famous dad a secret. Oona lies to everyone. Penelope lies only to herself.
   Deftly told from multiple points of view in various narrative styles, including letters and movie screenplays, What We Hide is provocative, honest, often funny, and always intriguing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:31 -0400)

Told from multiple viewpoints, this is the story of high school junior Jenny of Philadelphia, who spends a semester at a Quaker boarding school in Sheffield, England, near where her brother's avoiding the Vietnam draft, and where everyone carries close-held secrets.… (more)

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