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The Size of the Truth (Sam Abernathy Books)…
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The Size of the Truth (Sam Abernathy Books)

by Andrew Smith

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152992,993 (3.8)None
A boy who spent three days trapped in a well tries to overcome his PTSD and claustrophobia so he can fulfill his dream of becoming a famous chef in Andrew Smith's first middle grade novel. When he was four years old, Sam Abernathy was trapped at the bottom of a well for three days, where he was teased by a smart-aleck armadillo named Bartleby. Since then, his parents plan every move he makes. But Sam doesn't like their plans. He doesn't want to go to MIT. And he doesn't want to skip two grades, being stuck in the eighth grade as an eleven-year-old with James Jenkins, the boy he's sure pushed him into the well in the first place. He wants to be a chef. And he's going to start by entering the first annual Blue Creek Days Colonel Jenkins Macaroni and Cheese Cook-Off. That is, if he can survive eighth grade, and figure out the size of the truth that has slipped Sam's memory for seven years.… (more)

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With a interesting mix between humor, imagination, and the harshness of fitting in, this is a read to surprise in so many ways.

Sam is sort of stuck in life, much in the same way he was once stuck in a well...but different too. His parents have everything planned out for him; he's going to MIT. They've even made sure he took the tests to skip from the 6th grade to the 8th. Sam, however, loves to cook and is really good at it. Someday, he wants to become a great chef, and that doesn't include the things his father likes to cook on their strange, annual survival outings. Someone once saved him from the well but he'll have to find his own way out of this hole.

This was not the read I expected it to be. Rather than following a more serious tone, it dances along an intriguing mix of quirkiness, bitter-sweet imagination and more serious battles of a middle grade kid. It makes for a quick read, which leaves smiles while still keeping the cloud of Sam's struggles hanging like a constant reminder. And it's this strange humor which makes it more appealing to reluctant readers.

Sam's story doesn't follow a normal timeline, but rather switches between his current life and memories of the hole. But the author does a good job at keeping it clear, which scene is which. This keeps confusion at bay. The author also does a wonderful job at bringing across the school scenes, by centering more on certain characters rather than the school classroom. This makes for a very personal touch which gives realistic depth, and makes the characters easy to relate to and understand. And especially considering Sam's strange life (thanks mostly to his father), this is exactly what the reader needs to pull the story down to a more normal level.

While the symbolism and bringing in of the well experience is a masterful weave along with the message of the book, it created a slightly strange atmosphere. Sam's memories of the well include a talking armadillo and takes on a bit of a hallucinating atmosphere...which could very well fit the situation. The armadillo, however, carries more mature jokes and actions with him, which wouldn't fit the imagination of a four-year old. But then, Sam doesn't behave like a four-year-old in those scenes completely either. Even Sam's father behaves in odd ways, especially the survival trips demonstrated a lack of knowledge on the father's part and, on top of that, a lack of concern for his son's safety. While funny, both of these left an odd twist which simply didn't sit quite right with me.

This is, however, an interesting read which brings across Sam's struggles in a humorous and meaningful way. Readers of the age group will relate to him much of the time and find moments to laugh as well. While it might not be a read for everyone, it will be enjoyed by the right audience.

I received a complimentary copy and found it intriguing enough to want to leave my honest thoughts. I'm giving this one 3.5 stars and rounding up. ( )
  tdrecker | Jan 29, 2019 |
One of the great advantages of being a long-time bookseller is that sometimes you get really early peeks at books you're looking forward to. The downside is that you can't really talk about them except to say "Yup. I read that." This is one of those.

EDIT 07/30/2018:

Official ARCs are out in the world, so I can actually talk about this a bit now. And I'm going to be lazy and pretty much just share whole cloth what I sent to Andrew Smith and the good folks at Simon & Schuster after I'd read it:

Middle Grade is not my jam. I read it and enjoy a lot of it, but the kids always seem too old--like fifteen- or sixteen-year-olds--or too young. (Admittedly, I'm not around a lot of 8-12 year-olds, so my assessment may be off.) That disconnect between stated age and the age the character acts makes it hard for me to lose myself in the story. But, having Sam be a smart and precocious eleven allows him to be both wise-beyond-his-years and kind of dumb (especially about human interaction). So kudos to Smith for writing Sam in such a way that I wasn't constantly saying to myself "An 11-year-old would never say/do that." Not having that disconnect allowed me to just fall into (#sorrynotsorry) the story.

I suck at transitions. This is one of the (bajillionty) reasons I am not a writer.

Bartleby. Let's talk about Bartleby, the Chekov's gun of talking armadillos. Because, yes, as soon as he was introduced I was waiting for him to say it. It's not something the target audience will get (at least I hope to all that is good and kind that they are not teaching Melville in grade school), but I'm just imagining a teacher reading the book aloud to a class and getting to that part and having to explain why she's laughing to confused fourth-graders. At first I wondered whether Bartleby was real or a figment of Sam's imagination--a way to cope with his trauma--and then I realized that he was real to Sam whether he was tangible in the real world and I should just go with it, which allowed me to enjoy the whole Bartleby adventure as a rather twisted play on all those talking animal books. Also vision quests and—being underground—the Alice books. And, yes, in spite of the fact that Sam is trapped at the bottom of a dis-used well, these are my favorite parts because they are less traumatic than middle school.

And, gods, middle school is hard enough without being skipped ahead from 6th to 8th grade. And not even over the summer, but in the first week of school, so there's no time to gird one's loins or plead one's case for staying with other kids the same age. And then there are the awful survival camping trips. I mean, camping is bad enough (outside wants to kill you, gruesomely and a lot), but no tent, no food, no water, no shoes, ffs. I kinda hated Sam's dad for being so oblivious as to not notice that Sam was miserable on those trips. (Oblivious is the best option. If he knew and made Sam go anyway, that's like a thousand times worse.) But the horrible, horrifying camping really serves to emphasize--in bold, bug-bitten type--the core idea of parental and societal expectations, especially regarding masculinity.

I loved that Sam and James both had passions and pursuits that were at odds with what their fathers expected of them and even at odds with what their outer appearances led others to expect of them. Sam is smart and small, so science and math and computers and engineering are obviously what he should be interested in. Likewise, James is big and intimidating so he must love and be awesome at football. Yet both boys have as their passions the traditionally feminine pursuits of cooking and dance, respectively. (Though we could get into the whole "cooking is for girls" except as it applies to the professional kitchen, which is still very much a man's world. Women cook, men "chef". That's changing, albeit slowly, but men are still the most visible and celebrated of the celebrity chefs. Obviously, I have feelings about restaurant and chef culture and there are reasons, as much as I love to cook, that I never pursued that as a career.) They're also generally less-lucrative careers (and, again, we get into "women's work" being valued less than traditionally masculine jobs, though football players would be among the first to tell you how f*cking brutal ballet is). The only thing I wished was that Sam would make more of a connection to his dad about the intersection of STEM fields to cooking. With the number of books exploring the science of cooking, there was an opportunity here that was missed, in my opinion. But, then again, Sam's eleven, so those arguments may not have occurred to him.

And, look, I know this is Sam's book, but can I just say how much I f*cking loved James? This big, hulking kid who loved to dance and whose favourite book is Dune and who is just absolutely not at all what everyone thinks he is? I am that selfish reader who, as soon as I turned the last page, wanted nothing more than to pick up a book about James and his career in dance. I want the harsh brutality of professional dance school as only Andrew Smith could write it.
( )
  BillieBook | Nov 20, 2018 |
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