All of This Is True, Lygia Day Peñaflor

There’s that fine line between genius and batshit crazy

When four Long Island teens plot to meet Fatima Ro, the elusive author of their favourite novel, they’re stunned when she befriends them and invites them into her eccentric life. 

But a year later, Miri, Soleil, Jonah and Penny are shocked to discover that Fatima’s newly released YA novel is based on their secrets. The revelations are devastating, and they can’t escape the spotlight.

* * *
3 / 5

What a wild, bold, confusing, ethically provocative, crazy, page-turning, and somewhat unsatisfying book. It’s rare that a book can evoke so many emotions in me, but All of This Is True made me run the whole gamut – interest, anger, joy, frustration, eagerness, and annoyance. I reckon this is going to be a hit and it deserves it.

We befriended Fatima because she’s a writer. You can’t hug a lion and then he surprised when he bites you

Miri, Soleil, and Penny are the holy triad of friends; previously united by their love of parties, the trio are now bound by their love of YA book Undertow. Together with their new mysterious friend Jonah, they plot to meet the book’s author Fatima Ro. Imagine their surprise when not only is this charming, delightful, and captivating young woman interested in chatting to them, she actually invites them into her lives!

It is only later, when they are enraptured by her theories about human interactions and forming relationships, when they have spilled their secrets to Fatima, that her darker nature becomes apparent. Then Fatima writes a book about them, about all of them, in a meta/inception-like fashion, and it has darker consequences than any of them might have imagined. The friends now divided, the book weaves together the narrative from interviews and journal entries from the three girls after the events have already happened, alongside excerpts from the book that Fatima writes.

For months I wanted to know: What are you thinking? What are you hiding? What are you weighing? But now that he’s told me, I can’t unknow

Honestly, it was such a cool idea. And even better, it really kind of worked. All of This Is True was such a page-turner, I desperately wanted to know what secret had ripped the friends apart, what had Fatima done, what was the fallout from this novel? Why was Miri so defensive of Fatima, why was Soleil so heartbroken, why was Penny so upset? Why? There was something so intriguing and authentic and creepy about Fatima Ro, a woman who got close with a bunch of seventeen year olds, who seemed kind and honest and then took their lives and wrote them into a book.

So what didn’t work? First off, about half the book consists of excerpts from Fatima’s book: The Absolution of Brady Stevenson. This book is crap. I would not have read that book. It read so empty and fake compared to the “real” characters, which may very well have been the point, but it was annoying to read. Then, each character is doubled: there is the “real” person – Miri, Penny, Jonah, Soleil, Fatima – and their book-within-a-book counterpart – Marni, Brady, Sunny, Thora, and Paloma – so it never feels like you can really connect with each character.

He was desperate to be rewritten

Added to that, when I finished the book there was this sense of being unsatisfied. I still had so many questions! Who was Fatima? Is the question at the top of that list. Obviously, part of the point was to leave the reader to have their own answers, but as a reader I do want to feel like the book has given me some answers, some conclusive ending.

All of This Is True is a wonderfully original, bold, wild, ambitious book. I’ve never read anything quite like it. But it also manages to be a bit too pretentious.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book. 

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