I can probably count on my ten little fingers the number of authors whose complete published oeuvre I’ve read. On just one hand, or five little fingers, I can fit those whose books I pre-order as soon as I hear there’s a new one coming. Andrew Smith fits into both of these categories. He is, in other words, a two-handed experience in my reading life. I won’t go so far as to say I’m double-fisting, because innuendo. But you catch my drift.
It is both safe and fair to say that I’ve enjoyed every Andrew Smith book I’ve read, and that would be all of them. When a new one is coming, I know I’m probably going to like it. This is what we call an “informed opinion” based on prior experience. It’s a dangerous thing, though, because, well, what in the world would happen if I were to read a dozen books by a beloved writer, let myself get worked up over a new release, and then find it to be completely disappointing?
What would I do if Andrew Smith let me down?
The answer: I have no idea, because it still hasn’t happened.
The Size of the Truth is Andrew Smith’s first middle grade novel, and what an achievement it is. The book itself stands out to me as one of Smith’s best, even without taking into consideration that he has shifted from a young adult to a middle grade audience. That said, I’m beyond excited that a new demographic of young reader is about to be introduced to one of today’s finest contemporary writers, and that these readers will have such a catalog of options available to them as they get older and discover Smith’s other works!
For those familiar with Smith’s catalog, you might be excited to know that The Size of the Truth takes us back to the world of Winger and Stand Off. It is in effect a prequel to Stand Off, in that its protagonist is a younger Sam Abernathy, the precocious, dorky, adorable, troubled younger roommate to Ryan Dean West of Winger/Stand Off fame. What Smith does so well in the earlier novels, he continues and even builds on in this one.
Friendship and family, masculinity and identity, coming-of-age and coming into one’s own. These are, as always, the core themes in Smith’s new novel; but in this case, these themes revolve around a mysterious trauma, a mistaken memory, and the biggest question of all: what is true? In other words, how do we find the courage to acknowledge painful and difficult realities, ones that we might not even fully comprehend?
This kind of exploration, this kind of wonderment about life and dreams and passion, is the kind of thing Andrew Smith does in the most paradoxically unique but ubiquitous ways, in the most timeless but timely fashion. That he follows this path with Sam Abernathy, of all characters, is testament to just how deeply Smith think about the world and how seriously he takes the joys and pains of growing up, the sorrows and brilliancy of simply being in the world – an individual in the chaos.
Truth – like love, like fear- is one of the most elusive concepts I can think of. The idea that it can be described or narrated, illustrated or made universal, would have been, just a week ago, almost laughable. But as Smith introduces us to young Sam Abernathy, the boy in the well, and we witness how this boy deals with his trauma, how he builds troubling friendships with armadillos but avoids meaningful ones with the real life humans around him, we begin to understand the size of the truth and to experience what it feels like to discover the meaning of it for one’s self.
Middle grade? Young adult? Retiree? Much like little Sam Abernathy’s well, with its winding tunnels and ancient mysteries, The Size of the Truth is big enough for us all.