Novel: What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick | Goodreads
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Publisher: Dial (Penguin Random House)
From the acclaimed author of My Life Next Door comes a swoony summertime romance full of expectation and regret, humor and hard questions.
Gwen Castle has never so badly wanted to say good-bye to her island home till now: the summer her Biggest Mistake Ever, Cassidy Somers, takes a job there as the local yard boy. He’s a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners who keep the island’s summer people happy. Gwen worries a life of cleaning houses will be her fate too, but just when it looks like she’ll never escape her past—or the island—Gwen’s dad gives her some shocking advice. Sparks fly and secret histories unspool as Gwen spends a gorgeous, restless summer struggling to resolve what she thought was true—about the place she lives, the people she loves, and even herself—with what really is.
A magnetic, push-you-pull-me romance with depth, this is for fans of Sarah Dessen, Jenny Han, and Deb Caletti.
I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I didn’t have any negative expectations, but I wasn’t expecting it to wow me either. I enjoyed My Life Next Door and thought it was a great beach read, but I didn’t follow up on Huntley Fitzpatrick as somebody I consistently had to read. I read this book within two days, and it made me start pining for June and July, for the sticky-heat, swimming-type summer atmosphere this book demanded. This, while maintaining the sweet, summer feel of that, had a lot more substance in a way that actually wowed me.
The book hones in on an “islander” girl who lives year-round on Seashell, an island that caters to the summer families. She’s always spent summers working at her dad’s grill, but is relieved that she nabs a summer job with Mrs. Ellington – an elderly woman who needs a caretaker – instead. She’s planning on spending her summer on Seashell actually enjoying the island before she leaves, because she can’t wait to get off for college, and spending time with her big family. Her cousin Nic and her best friend Vivien are helplessly in love but she hasn’t had any of that: she’s only had her reputation from the previous year with Cassidy Somers. But when she sees that Cassidy’s also spending his summer on the island – and keeps “conveniently” running into her – her plans start to change.
Gwen had spunk. She had a personality that leapt off the page, but she wasn’t obnoxious. Instead, she carried a quiet sort of confidence, caring deeply about her family and friends in a way that was unassuming and all-encompassing. She was bold, and embarrassed herself, but she was observant in a way that made her blatantly likable. I loved how she was fierce but not overwhelming; she could banter with the guys but that wasn’t her main personality trait. She was a hard-worker and a thoughtful girl.
Cass, on the other hand, was obviously charming, but he wasn’t all crooked-smile, I-get-all-the-girls. It never came off as smarmy. He got jobs from his dad’s connections and he came from money – in other words, the type of guy who might treat an island girl like a fling for the summer instead of anything real. But at the same time, he liked maps and teaching little kids how to swim and wasn’t at all weird about Emory, Gwen’s challenged younger brother, climbing all over him and calling him “Superman.”
It was a good balance. Both could have easily slipped into genre tropes, but maintained enough diversity within themselves to feel fully-fleshed and mercurial. That same variation in personalities contributed to their clashes, their chemistry, and some of the best scenes in the book.
The romance was absolutely magnificent. At first, it’s composed mainly of flashbacks and tinges of regret. Cass and Gwen had gotten together the year before, and things had gotten messy, to the point where Gwen vowed to completely avoid him during the summer. That history they had kept things a little tangled, but they still had that first-date feeling that was adorable to read about. In My Life Next Door, it could get a little cloying but Gwen and Cass had enough conflict to keep things fresh and never too much. They challenged each other, and they had their ups and downs, and their banter, and it had a bittersweet edge that came from having been together before.
The book mainly focuses on the romance, but it’s not an overpowering element. There are several compelling sub-threads. For one, Gwen works for a vibrant ninety-year old woman, Mrs. Ellington, who gets her to read bawdy romance novels and take her for swims with her elderly friends. Mrs. Ellington’s son has his own issues going on, ones which absorb Gwen into questions of morality that she has to solve throughout the book.
Gwen’s family was engrossing in its entirety. Her parents are divorced – although she’s on good terms with both – and she lives with her Portugese grandfather, mother, little brother, and cousins. Her little brother has some mental issues – not autistic, but they could never quite figure it out – and needs constant supervision. Her cousin and her best friend, Viv, have been dating her entire life and now deal with questions of marriage and their combined future together. Her mother and father work consuming jobs and Gwen’s sick of the discrimination the islanders receive from the summer families who visit. Her determination to take care of them while forging her own path came off as authentic and heartwarming.
All in all, the book does a really great job of balancing that. The pacing is solid; the summer scenes are indulgent, but still realistic in the sense that I want to gather together a ton of friends and go do the things that they do in the book – kayak, bridge-jump, have barbecues. The overall effect reminds me of authors like Morgan Matson and Jenny Han who consistently produce “beach reads” with substance.
I love love loved this one. I’m definitely going to pass it on to the girls who always ask me for beach reads, and I’m definitely going to reread it in the future.