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Give Me Some Truth

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Give Me Some Truth Book Poster Image
Gritty, funny tale of teens on "the Rez" in 1980.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Many stories, like the time a tribe successfully kept a freeway off their land with a little help from John Lennon, may inspire further reading. Besides a saturation-level dose of Beatles lyrics and references, Give Me Some Truth offers an inside look at a time and place that will be new to many readers, with insights into reservation life, circa 1980, in comparison with the mainstream culture of the time. Also a lot of history that looks different seen from the Native perspective, such as forced boarding schools, lost land, destroyed culture. References to Native American books including Custer Died for Your Sins.

Positive Messages

Characters have to work through a fair amount of dark stuff in this story, but there are strong messages of friendship (even when someone's being a jerk), family (even when it's seriously dysfunctional), community (even when people fall short), and not being afraid to find your own path.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In one iconic moment, a character is literally saved by rock-and-roll as she flees a bad situation to rejoin her band onstage. As the title suggests, the doomed, distant presence of John Lennon, his music, and his angry social conscience looms large in Give Me Some Truth. He serves as a role model to protagonists Carson, who plays his songs, and Maggi, who incorporates his album art into her own creations. Carson and Maggi are believably flawed, confused teens who don't always make the right choices but learn quite a bit about themselves, their lives, and their own moral compasses, becoming better, more mature people in the process. Lewis, protagonist of If I Ever Get Out of Here, is a good friend to Carson. Some adults are dysfunctional, mean, or predatory, while others show kindness and creative thinking where they're most needed. Shoplifting seems to be just a part of life.

Violence

As the story opens, a character is shot in the behind as a robbery goes wrong. Later, a protest turns to a brawl. Some parents have a lot of rage they take out on their kids by hitting or beating them.

Sex

A lot of bawdy talk and joking, sexually charged situations, some of which highlight cultural differences, as when Carson explains that it's considered bad on "the Rez" to use birth control, because word gets around you don't consider the girl "hot enough to have kids with." Two teen sisters are romantically involved with much older men; the older girl is sneaking off to have sex with her former teacher, while a 15-year-old virgin and her creepy 30-year-old boyfriend make out, plan a night of sex, and get pretty close in a vivid, explicit scene that runs off the rails before the big moment. References to nudity, including the famous Two Virgins album cover, the iconic Rolling Stone cover with naked John Lennon embracing non-naked Yoko Ono, "skin mags" stashed away by adults and dug out by teens, and a book of erotic drawings by John Lennon. A teen character mentions seeing women working as prostitutes.

Language

Crude, profane, and also racist language comes with the territory here. "F--k," "s--t," "piss," "ass," "butt,"  and more are common -- sometimes in song lyrics by John Lennon. Many references to penises, balls, nuts, etc. The teens' band raises funds by fining themselves for swearing.

Consumerism

Frequent references to commercial brands popular in 1980, some of which still exist, such as Jordache, Chevelle, Trans Am, McDonald's, Binaca. An entire subplot involves the McDonald's character Hamburglar.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters smoke cigarettes and cigars, and also drink alcohol, sometimes getting drunk. One disturbing scene involves a drunken Native man, a Vietnam vet, performing degrading acts for drunken white people in return for beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Give Me Some Truth is a coming-of-age tale set on an Indian reservation near Niagara Falls in 1980, involving many of the characters first seen in If I Ever Get Out of Here. The title is also the title of a John Lennon song, and the story is drenched in references and plot themes related to Lennon, his post-Beatles work (musical and political), and murder, all of which are touchstones and inspiration for many of the characters. A character's nonfatal wound in a robbery gone wrong is important to the plot. Profanity, smoking, drinking, and dicey sexual situations are plentiful. For example, two teens sneak off to be with their much older boyfriends, and both protagonists obsess about losing their virginity, preferably soon. Racism, poverty, and pure meanness are daily challenges. Alternating narrators Carson (17) and Maggi (15) are flawed, engaging, and relatable as they try to find a righteous path, be true to themselves, dodge their parents' wrath, and maybe be better friends and family members.

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What's the story?

As GIVE ME SOME TRUTH opens, it's 1980 on "the Rez," an Indian reservation in upstate New York, when 17-year-old Carson Mastick gets word of an upcoming battle of the bands, with a trip to New York City as the prize. Carson, who's a bit full of himself, has always wanted to go to New York. He figures his friend Lewis (last seen in If I Ever Get Out of Here), who's even more obsessed with the Beatles than he is, will be into it, and hey, maybe they'll get to see John Lennon, who lives there now. Also in the newly formed Dog Street Devils: 15-year-old Magpie (Maggi) Bokoni, who's just moved back from the city with her family. Carson's got eyes for her, but he can't compete with the attention and gifts of her 30-year-old, Trans Am-driving white-guy colleague from work, whose creepiness is obvious to everyone but her. 

Is it any good?

This relatable, gritty, harrowing, heartwarming coming-of-age tale explores John Lennon's life-changing effect on "the Rez" in 1980. Native American academic/author Eric Gansworth infuses Give Me Some Truth with a lot of history, references to political movements and writers of the time, and constant lyrics, song titles, album cover descriptions, and other rock culture, especially Beatles songs, which will delight Beatles fans and probably mystify readers whose musical tastes are different.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Give Me Some Truth shows the shared grief over John Lennon's death -- even among sworn enemies. Do you find that if you and someone else like the same music, you get along, even if you don't have much else in common?

  • Why do you think the Beatles were so important to people around the world? Do you like their music? What do you think made it so popular? Do you think any other bands are that popular today?

  • Does your family have stories and traditions passed down over the generations? Do you have any favorites? If you were going to start one, what would it be?

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