REVIEW: All of This is True – Lygia Day Peñaflor

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Author: Lygia Day Peñaflor (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Harper Teen

Genre: YA, contemporary fiction

Buy now: ebook | paperback

Miri Tan loved the book Undertow like it was a living being. So when she and her friends went to a book signing to hear the author, Fatima Ro, they concocted a plan to get close to her.

Soleil Johnston wanted to be a writer herself one day. When she and her friends started hanging out with her favorite author, Fatima Ro, she couldn’t believe their luck–especially when Jonah Nicholls started hanging out with them, too.

Penny Panzarella was more than the materialist party girl everyone at the Graham School thought she was–and she was willing to share all her secrets with Fatima Ro to prove it.

Jonah Nicholls had more to hide than any of them. And now that Fatima’s next book is out in the world, he’s the one who is paying the price…

Perfect for fans of One of Us Is Lying–and told as a series of interviews, journal entries, and even pages from the book within the book–this gripping story of a fictional scandal will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

All of this is True was the first book I received through a Book Box subscription, under the theme of ‘Bad Girls’. It probably isn’t a book I would have chosen on my own – I’m not generally super interested in contemporary YA, I usually prefer the subgenres within it, YA Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi, you know the drill. I wasn’t entirely enthused when I read the blurb either, but there’s something special about this book – the structure.

The story itself is relatively simple – a group of friends from high school become friends with an older writer, Fatima, who seems to enjoy dispensing her wisdom to them and being worshipped like a super-cool genius. It quickly becomes apparent that her intentions aren’t innocent, and things take a predatory twist as she tries to manipulate them into giving her material for her next book. But it’s not told as a linear novel. It’s told retrospectively, through interview transcripts, emails and blog posts, and excerpts from the novel the teenagers inspired, which we are given to understand is a fully accurate depiction of circumstances, save for name changes.

It’s an interesting look at the idea of the unreliable narrator which, done well, can be one of my favourite literary tropes. You are given three retrospective views, and one which dates from the time of the incident. One of the retrospectives is the novel, one is an interview transcript with Miri, who completely bought into Fatima’s teachings and still doesn’t see that she did anything wrong; the other interview transcript is with Penny, who felt like an outsider and wanted to be accepted, and has faced backlash and abuse over what happened, and regrets it deeply. The final pieces are email threads and blogs which were written at the time it all occurs by Soleil, who is unhappy she has become the star of a novel she didn’t agree to be in. Her entries show her eagerness to be accepted, to be wanted, but also exactly how blatant Fatima was in manipulating Soleil’s admiration into something else.

We never hear directly from Fatima, or from Jonah. Fatima has gone off-grid, whilst Jonah is in hospital.

I felt the story itself, and the plot twist, were fairly predictable, in much the same way the twist in Mirror Mirror was predictable. The clear omissions in the narrative made it obvious to me that where one thing wasn’t clearly confirmed, then the other must be true, and emphasis was placed heavily on the amount of assumption which took place.  But in the end, I don’t think it mattered that it was obvious. Where, in Mirror Mirror, the book suffered for being so stilted in a flawed attempt to challenge preconceptions, All Of This Is True is fluent throughout, and in some ways I almost wonder if you’re meant to be aware of the twist, so that you can fully appreciate how deeply everyone digs themselves based on their assumptions, making it a use of dramatic irony rather than a tool to try and surprise the audience.

The format of the book, the mix of styles for each chapter, means that it is a really easy read. The plot moves quickly and it’s easy to read several chapters in a sitting.

For me, I would have liked to have had some direct input from Fatima, some chance to see exactly what she was thinking, but perhaps that was the point – that she came in and upset all these lives, and then left without any obvious consequences to herself, and no need to explain herself. There was certainly something about the way she found herself a group of friends so much younger than her to make herself feel more important that struck me, and perhaps I just wanted to see more of that, to feel more of the discomfort it generated.

Generally, I think this book is better placed for teenagers rather than adults, but it wasn’t bad at all.

Briefly:

  • A book that I think would be perfect for teen readers, I’m not certain it has quite the same impact with an adult audience, but it’s fluently written and easy to read.
  • What makes this book for me is the structure and the use of different narrative techniques between chapters to show different perspectives and play with the story. It adds a lot of life to the plot, makes the narrative dynamic, and sets the book apart in a way a traditional narrative wouldn’t have.
  • I think there could be a lot to explore in the area of younger adults (early twenties) refusing to grow up and, in this case, predating on teenagers to perhaps keep a hold on their youth but also to make themselves feel important and necessary.
  • An interesting exploration of the intensity of bonds between teenagers and what happens when they turn toxic or are manipulated.

Rating: 4/5 – I don’t think I was quite the target audience, but I can imagine this book going down very well with teenage readers.

11 thoughts on “REVIEW: All of This is True – Lygia Day Peñaflor

  1. Grab the Lapels says:

    When I was doing an MFA program, I always wanted to play with form vs. content but was too hesitant to do it. When you submit your thesis to graduate, it has to follow strict formatting guidelines, many of which don’t work with fun experimentation of form.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bexa says:

    This sounds like an interesting book, especially as it is written from a book, interviews, emails and blog posts. Fatima’s character sounds intriguing, like you say, it would be good to hear from her directly to understand why she did what she did. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Claire, as always your reviews are so well written and descriptive. Great post! ❤ xx

    Bexa | http://www.hellobexa.com

    Liked by 1 person

  3. irena_bookdustmagic says:

    It’s amazing how sometimes books find their way to us, like you said, you wouldn’t pick this one on your own, but I can see you liked it anyway.
    And I like how it brought something to the table when it comes to ya contemporary (unusual structure).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. blacktulipbeauty says:

    Wow this sounds like a very different approach to a book?! Very interesting story line, I’ve never heard one quite like it! I definitely agree that it doesn’t sound so much like an adults read but it’s definitely got me intrigued!
    Alice Xx

    Liked by 1 person

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