Tell Me Something Real
Simon & Schuster / Atheneum
Her mother’s cancer dominates Vanessa’s life. Alternative treatments in Mexico are the only hope for her mom, whose cancer is terminal. While Vanessa tries to anticipate her mother’s every need and keep her sisters (foul-mouthed Adrienne and saint-obsessed Marie) together, she also dreams of a day when she can pursue her own dreams. She pours out her grief in her music and counts the days until she’ll hear back from music schools about applications she’s secretly sent out.
Then two new members join Vanessa’s family group—a boy whose cancer is in remission and his overprotective mother. As Vanessa and Caleb begin to fall in love, a terrible betrayal rips her family apart. Vanessa and her sisters must sift the wreckage for the truth and discover how to heal.
I started reading this book feeling a little anxious about the whole betrayal aspect. It’s always a gamble, right? You don’t want the character you fall in love with to be the guy who suddenly turns out to be the villain. So it’s a risky thing to read a book where you know something like this will happen and it’s going to be REALLY BAD.
That said, I felt like Devlin handled the betrayal part with real care and power. I was shocked by what happened (I had a short list of things I imagined the betrayal might be, and it turned out to be none of the things on my list) and definitely identified with the girls as they scrambled to piece together their own feelings and care for one another. I liked all three of the sisters. Marie’s obsession with saints fascinated me, especially juxtaposed against her relationship with her mom.
I loved that there are honorable adults in the story. Not all of them are honorable, but as the girls endure this betrayal, it shakes their faith in who the good guys are and who they can trust, especially where adults are concerned. I liked that as I looked around at the cast of characters, there were respect-worthy role models there for the girls to fall back on. We all need that. We all need mentors who’ve gone before us who can encourage us to keep seeking the truth and moving forward. So that really resonated with me.
Just before this book I read One Paris Summer which also features a young talented pianist. It was interesting reading each character’s different reactions to the same composers (some I was familiar with and some I wasn’t) and why certain pieces were significant to them. Both girls found music to be a way to express their grief and strong feelings about the changes in their lives. They’re very different stories, but I felt like both did justice to the healing power of music.
This book is darker than One Paris Summer, but has some real thought-provoking ideas in it. See the content description below to decide whether this book is a good fit for you or your readers.
Vanessa and her sisters drive with their mother across the Mexican border to receive cancer treatment that’s illegal in the United States. A nurse named Lupe takes care of Vanessa’s mom, and a cook named Rico dotes on the girls. The major characters are white, middle-class Americans.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.
Vanessa states that Adrienne and her boyfriend have been sleeping together for a year. Vanessa herself is a virgin, but when she begins seeing her first boyfriend, she feels this might change. She exchanges kisses with him, and at one point he reaches under her shirt/bra. At one point Adrienne makes posters sexually denigrating to her ex-boyfriend.
Marie idolizes saints listed in a book. She quotes them and collects cards with the saints pictured on them. She especially loves the young virgin girls murdered for their strong faith, like Joan of Arc. At one point the family decides a Catholic school may be the best place for Marie because she’ll receive some understanding for her love of saints while also having the structure she desperately needs to survive the tumult at home.
Mild violence. Adrienne has some angry outbursts. One of the girls remembers her mother slapping a nurse and becoming agitated when a doctor tries to draw blood for tests.
Vanessa’s mother receives alternative treatment in Mexico considered by US doctors to be harmful, even toxic. Caleb believes the treatment is harmful and wants to discontinue it, but at seventeen, he doesn’t have the right to refuse treatment his mom requires him to have.