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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1181

Author: Susan Juby (b. 1969)

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Contemporary Realistic

Time of plot: Present

Locale: Nanaimo, British Columbia

Principal characters

Normandy “Norm” Pale, a writer and embroidery artist

Dusk, one of her best friends, a taxidermist

Neil , her other best...

(The entire section contains 1181 words.)

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Author: Susan Juby (b. 1969)

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Contemporary Realistic

Time of plot: Present

Locale: Nanaimo, British Columbia

Principal characters

Normandy “Norm” Pale, a writer and embroidery artist

Dusk, one of her best friends, a taxidermist

Neil, her other best friend, a painter

Keira Pale, her talented but temperamental older sister

Ms. Fowler, her creative writing teacher and school counselor

The Story

Normandy Pale is a junior at Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design. She and her best friends, Dusk and Neil, enjoy spending time together while working on their art. Dusk's current interest is taxidermy, something that is probably more of a way to get a reaction out of her doctor parents than something that she truly finds fulfilling. Neil is a painter whose main subjects are beautiful women, so Dusk often appears in his work. Norm is a writer and embroidery artist. Her embroidered works are so detailed that they look like photographs. Though each is talented, Norm tends to undermine the significance and quality of her work because her older sister, Keira, a wildly successful graphic novelist, has always gotten the attention at home and in the community. Each junior at G. P. Academy must do a spring project, and the text of The Truth Commission is presented as Norm's project, an attempt at creative nonfiction. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers

Susan Durby.

Courtesy of Delgado Photography

The Truth Commission is founded when, on the first day back to school, the friends notice one of their classmates, Aimee, looks a bit different than she had the previous year. They decide to have Neil ask Aimee if she had plastic surgery, a question that she promptly answers in the affirmative. She is also forthcoming with her motives; she wants to become a broadcast journalist. After Neil's conversation with Aimee, Dusk comments, "You're a one-man truth commission." Neil responds, "The truth shall set us free." Norm questions the validity of Neil's statement, but he and Dusk see the Commission as a new spiritual practice and their destiny. As the school year progresses, each of the friends reaches out to a classmate, confronting them with some question of truth that supposedly will free that person from a burden of secrecy. This works with some of the people they confront, but the answers are not always comfortable.

Norm's main truth is found at home. Given that Keira has been publicly hailed as a genius, Norm has always felt less important as "Keira Pale's sister." She describes Keira as a "space cadet" and a "fairy" who does not intend "to be hurtful or destructive," but the graphic novels that Keira creates present her family in negative ways, ridiculing them. Though Keira had gone away to college, she has recently returned for some mysterious reason. Norm feels both honored and concerned when Keira sneaks into her bedroom at night and begins to share a frightening story of rape by a professor. This truth becomes more than Norm can handle, and eventually she tells her friends what Keira has confessed.

Dusk, Neil, and a few other students find out that Keira has secretly purchased her own townhouse and the teens sneak inside to see what she is up to. Norm's discovery is more painful than she could have imagined, and she takes control of her life, challenging Keira in a way that no one else has ever done.

Critical Evaluation

The novel is ironically presented as Normandy's junior project, a piece of creative nonfiction. Told in first person, the book proposes itself as her story, making it feel realistic and personal. The primary plot device of the Truth Commission itself allows the narrative to branch in multiple ways, some humorous and others serious. Importantly, the Commission's interference in the lives of Norm and her friends' classmates raises the question of whether they have any right to ask the questions and whether the truth that is revealed is helpful. After talking to one of the classmates that she and Dusk confronted, Norm considers "how cavalier we'd been. . . . The nerve of us and our Truth Commission." This conflict bothers Norm throughout the novel and raises questions within her own life that she is somewhat reluctant to answer. Many of these questions will resonate with readers as well.

The many interwoven stories of Norm's friends, family, and acquaintances also provide opportunities for readers to relate in some way. They provide a fresh look into high school life, with skillful use of humor. Some of these brief tales result from the Truth Commission's goal of asking people to admit their truths. For instance, Zinnia McFarland, a classmate who reveals the truth behind her activism, has a minor plotline threaded throughout the novel. Another subplot is the romance that Normandy speculates between her school counselor and English teacher. This story is told via footnotes sprinkled throughout the book, adding to the feel that the book itself is Norm's work.

A more serious element of the story revolves around Norm's family life. Norm's older sister Keira is a golden child who has been hailed as a genius, setting up a tense dynamic. Despite the fact that Keira's successful graphic novels mock her family, resulting in their feeling used and unappreciated, the girls' parents tiptoe around their older daughter, and Norm makes excuses for her strange behaviors. However, as the novel progresses, Keira's selfishness turns darker, and Norm finally takes a stand to protect herself. In addition to these threads, there is a question of romantic interest as well, and Norm realizes that she has allowed her problems with self-image to undermine a potential relationship. When she finally accepts the fact that she needs someone to talk to about her family situation, she grows stronger in varied ways.

The novel considers many themes with which teen readers will be able to relate. One such theme is the art of self-presentation. Neil, for instance, is fascinated with 1970s films and dresses as his favorite characters. Another theme revolves around friendships, found primarily in the ways Dusk, Neil, and Norm overcome common difficulties within their friendship. Norm also provides humorous comments about her school assignments, especially related to the literature she has to read for school. Since the books mentioned are part of the curriculum in many schools, readers will find themselves laughing along with Norm, appreciating her fresh view of authors like William Faulkner and Shakespeare.

Further Reading

  • Adams, Lauren. Review of The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby. The Horn Book Magazine, 1 Mar. 2015, p. 100. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=101206924&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 5 Apr. 2018.
  • Brownson, Ann. Review of The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby. School Library Journal, July 2015, p. 49. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=103428685&site=ehost-live. Accessed 3 Mar. 2018.
  • Review of The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby. Publishers Weekly, 2 Dec. 2015, pp. 99–100. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=111245066&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 3 Mar. 2018.
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