Summary: After receiving their draft notices to fight in the Vietnam War, Tom and his friend Matt take very different paths. Matt’s family encourages him to serve his country, while Tom’s family frantically searches for a loophole, finding one in the education clause. Tom and his sister Jenn are sent to England to go to school, hiding far away from the reality of war, and in the process end up meeting several colourful characters at Jenny’s boarding school with secrets of their own to hide.
Number of Pages: 275
Age Range: 15-17
Review: A full-length novel, What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn reads more like a collection of short stories with a common theme, the secrets we keep to survive.
I confess, I went into this book expecting something that it wasn’t, a piece of historical fiction examining the draft for the Vietnam War. While being drafted was the catalyst of the story, instead it was an examination of the truths people hide. Dodging the draft and feeling like a coward while Tom’s best friend faces war in the jungle is only one such truth, and Jocelyn explores other secrets surrounding the fellow students at the boarding school Jenny attends and those connected to them.
There are many stories to choose from, and my favourites were those of Brenda and Percy. Not only is Brenda doing her best to support her sister and her fatherless nephews, but she is a teenager falling in love for the first time, an experience marred by the roving hands of a trusted physician. It’s a secret she feels she must keep from her boyfriend, who turns out to be the physician’s son.
Percy is the oddball at school. Furiously scribbling in a notebook most of the time and teased when he claims his father is a well-known movie star, Percy is just trying to find his place in the world as the son of a father he’s never really known. And when his father finally does come around, Percy finds himself to be the missing child featured in all of his father’s movies.
Jocelyn’s characters are heartfelt in their struggles with claiming identity, belonging, parents, love, and acceptance. I love the undercurrent of the subjectiveness of truth and the influence of who is telling the story on how it turns out. The book has humourous moments, and, in the end, a commitment to living authentically from several of the characters.
I did want to know more about Matt and Tom, but I ended up enjoying Jocelyn’s book for what it was, a subtle look at the lengths we go to in hiding our differences to just fit in.
“Every bit of Luke’s skin tingled, as if he were the one rubbed raw. It was the brand-new bare-naked feeling of being himself. He tucked his arms around Robbie as best he could. After days of wondering, after the morning of screeching anxiety, Luke breathed in those few perfect seconds with the music of trolley wheels in the corridor, and his nose warm, in Robbie’s neck.” – Luke from What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn, page 116
“‘Ah,’ said Amy. ‘The question that humans have tackled for centuries. What is truth?’
‘That’s what I mean,’ said Nico. ‘No such thing. Especially if you’re talking about someone else. Nobody knows. It might not be lies, bit it’s not true either. It’s the way the story is told, what gets emphasized. Or left out.'” – Conversation between Amy and Nico from What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn, page 169