Title: Three Things I Know Are True
Author: Betty Culley
Publication date: 7th January 2020 (US) // 5th March 2020 (UK)
My rating: ★★★★☆
Goodreads rating: 4.31
Genre: Poetry, Contemporary, YA
I received an ARC of this book from the publishers Harper360. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by receiving a gifted copy of this book in any way. I would like to thank the publishers, NetGalley and the author Betty Culley.
*Trigger Warnings – Gun accident. death, grief*
This moving debut novel in verse about a teenage girl dealing with the aftermath of an accident that nearly takes her brother’s life is a stunning exploration of grief and the power of forgiveness.
The reminder is always there—a dent on the right side of Jonah’s forehead. The spot you’d press when you felt a headache coming on. The bullet tore away bone, the way dynamite blasts rock—leaving a soft crater.
Life changes forever for Liv when her older brother, Jonah, accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay’s father’s gun. Now Jonah needs round-the-clock care just to stay alive, and Liv seems to be the only person who can see that her brother is still there inside his broken body.
With Liv’s mom suing Clay’s family, there are divisions in the community that Liv knows she’s not supposed to cross. But Clay is her friend, too, and she refuses to turn away from him—just like she refuses to give up on Jonah.
Overall opinion of the book:
This was such a moving book and a very powerful debut. It’s open, honest and realistic. What is so great about Three Things I know Are True, being written in verse is that it emphasises how authors don’t need to over explain things to get their meaning across. Verse allows the reader room to interpret what is being said themselves. Sometimes less is more, and there were so many moments in the story when this proved to be true. It’s not often you find a book that does this, and when you do, it shows how powerful the writing is.
As the synopses explains, the story follows the aftermath of Liv’s life after her brother Jonah accidentally shoots himself in the head with the gun of his best friend’s father. Jonah suffers from severe disabilities and their mother struggles to come to terms with this. Loss, grief, disability and guilt are focused on heavily. At times the content is hard hitting and upsetting to read, but this and the overarching focus on guns and gun accidents is so important. Three Things I know are True brings to light the severity of someone’s actions and how it can have lasting impacts on the person and everyone around them.
The way in which disability is discussed is tactful and honest. It’s clear to see that Culley is writing from a place of experience giving her previous job and she does a great job in portraying the difficulties people with severe disabilities have to go through on a daily basis, the extent of the palliative care they need to receive, and how this affects their family members and friends. The way in which Liv accepts her brother after the incident is so very moving and I loved reading the parts where she defends her brother and normalises the situation to her friends. They are at first reluctant and scared to see her brother after the accident, but the way in which Liv handles the situation is mature. It also sheds light on people’s ignorance and a lack of wanting to understand the situation, so instead bully.
At first Liv’s tone of voice felt quite childlike and a lot younger than 15. I wasn’t sure I was keen on this, but it seems as though this is her way of dealing with what has happened. We see her grow to become such a strong and more mature character as the novel progresses which is significant. While her mother battles grief and blames Clay’s family for what happens, Liv still meets Clay regularly and they form a close bond. I enjoyed reading this as their relationship seemed to flow and build naturally and wasn’t forced. She accepts and is at peace with what happened for the most part and maintains a relationship with Clay’s mother after everything that has happened. Liv was a great character overall, she was open, kind hearted and accepting of others, she was definitely the right character to bring the story together. It’s interesting to see her almost take on the role of the parent instead of her mother, emphasising how different people deal with difficult situations.
I liked that this book made me think about the plot, it could easily have allowed me to see the situation in a certain way, but instead it leaves it quite open for interpretation. While this is a beautifully written, lyrically perfect verse, it brings into question the grey areas surrounding guns and responsibility. Being from the UK, guns don’t really have a big impact on us overall, but I can imagine this to be a very hard hitting topic in America given the current climate. Three Things I know Are True has political undertones, and it was interesting to follow both families through the court process.
Yes, this book is fiction, but it still emphasises just how much nurses and carers do. It highlights that often, most go above and beyond for the person and families they are helping. It’s made me even more grateful for the NHS. It must be so difficult to have to go through something similar to this in America when you don’t have free healthcare to help you – it really brings to light wider issues.
There were some aspects of the book that were a little repetitive and my attention drifted slightly, but the vast majority of the book was powerful and hard hitting. The spelling, punctuation and grammar was perfect. The ending and the last two parts of the book in particular choked me up emotionally on more the one occasion. It really does show the reality of the situation and is written in such a heartbreaking way. This was by far the best debut I’ve read in a long time.
Three Things I Know Are True was honestly a masterpiece in its own right and I look forward to reading more from this author. It’s a brilliantly written debut, with the right amount of emotive language and engaging content. It’s honest, open, and at times emotional to read. It conveys the very real and hard hitting reality of America’s stance on gun use and lack of help with healthcare. I would highly recommend giving this book a read, although it’s not written in prose, the fact it’s in verse makes it all the more powerful.
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