All of This Is True

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
All of This Is True Book Poster Image
Writer uses teens' secrets for stories in riveting thriller.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Psychological issues, including trauma, examined. A look into how some authors use other peoples' stories in their works.

Positive Messages

Idol worship can be dangerous. Be careful who you trust with your secrets and deepest emotions. Real friends care about each other's well being.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Penny and Soleil make some dubious decisions, but they're the most honest and caring of the characters in the book. Jonah works to confront his issues, though he, too, doesn't always go about things in the right way.

Violence

Kid in a coma from a beating, but the violence isn't shown.

Sex

A romantic relationship figures prominently in the plot. Some scenes of kissing and making out, a few of which are graphically described.  

Language

Characters swear, but not frequently, including "bitch," "damn," "God," "s--t," "p---y," "f--k," "bastard," and "ballsy."

Consumerism

Most of the characters are wealthy and status conscious, so labels are important to them. Some of the brands and media mentioned include Lululemon, Kate Spade, various haute couture designers, Range Rover, Mercedes, Audi, Fitbit, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and the TV shows The Bachelor and Pretty Little Liars.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that All of This Is True is about the manipulative relationship between four teens and the YA author they idolize. The story is part social drama, part psychological thriller. Flattered to be befriended by a novelist whose work they love, the shallow, status-conscious teens eat up the attention she shines on them, to disastrous consequences. The story is set in a wealthy  community on New York's Long Island, where the teens attend an exclusive private school. Cliques, privilege, elitism, and social-media fame all factor into the story. Characters make some bad decisions, though there's no drinking or drug use in the book. Characters swear infrequently, including "s--t," "f--k," and "bitch." Issues of honesty, social status, cliques, and idol worship provide interesting discussion topics.

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What's the story?

In ALL OF THIS IS TRUE, four teens can't believe their luck when they are befriended by a YA author they idolize. That initial excitement turns to sorrow, anger, and dread when their lives unravel and the relationship turns out not to be all that it seems. The four teens -- Miri, Soleil, Penny, and Jonah -- are shallow, privileged students at an exclusive prep school on Long Island. Being on top socially matters to them, so they feed on the attention and associated fame from being in author Fatima Ro's inner circle. They eat up Ro's advice on living an authentic life and adopt her cult-like terminology, but when they put her advice into practice, deeps secrets are exposed and lives are shattered. The teens are left wondering whether they were Ro's pawns all along and can't be sure of what was true and what was a lie.

Is it any good?

This sharp, riveting social drama and psychosocial thriller is impossible to put down. Author Lygia Day Peñaflor goes meta with All of This Is True, spinning a YA story about a YA author who mines the lives of teens for her subject matter. The novel starts out feeling like fluff, but as it progresses it delves into interesting issues around teen social structures, mob mentality, social media, and who stories belong to. Because of the shallowness of their lives, Miri, Soleil, Penny, and Jonah are so thrilled by the friendship and reflected fame of being close to famous author Fatima Ro that they don't question why an adult would want to be their friend, or the downsides of exposing their entire lives to her. The subject resonates in this over-sharing era of lifestyle bloggers, influencers, and Instagram fame. The thriller aspect comes from the creepiness of Fatima's cult-like hold over the teens and her new-age terminology that they weave into their lives, such as "inside/out" for total transparency and "precious truths" for their deepest thoughts.

The format of the book is interesting but bogs it down at the outset. Between the two television interviews, the published journal excerpts, and passages from two novels, there's a lot to keep track of. But it falls into place about one-third of the way into the story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the creative process and how authors get their ideas, especially the way Fatima Ro does in All of This Is True. Where do you think writers get their ideas?  How much of other peoples' lives is it OK to use in fictional books and movies?

  • How much are you influenced by what you see on social media? Do you jump on to trends? Do you assume the perfectly posed pictures tell the whole story of someone's life?

  • Do you think idol worship can be dangerous? Do you think your heroes can do no wrong, or do you see them as real people with issues and faults like everyone else?

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