First sentence: “My mother drives me to school like I’m little again, and I stir awake when she turns off the engine.”
Ah, I never thought I’d encounter The Canterbury Tales again. Chaucer’s stories caused me a lot of pain in college, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t excited to see that someone has finally written a YA retelling of this classic.
Sometimes We Tell the Truth retells Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, where a group of pilgrims travel together from London to Canterbury and tell each other stories as part of a contest to win a free meal. In Sometimes We Tell The Truth, it’s students from Southwark High School who are on a road trip to Washington D.C., and on the way, their teacher Mr. Bailey decides that each must tell a story—fact or fiction, any genre—and the winner will get an automatic A in the class.
THE WONDERFUL THINGS IN
SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH
- Sometimes We Tell The Truth really does retell the stories the pilgrims tell in The Canterbury Tales and interprets them for the modern audience.
Yes! It’s true! Sometimes We Tell The Truth is a retelling of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and it’s a great one. The names and situations and gender may be slightly different, but there’s no doubt that Chaucer fans or people who’ve read The Canterbury Tales will recognize things in the YA that happened in the Tales. Kim Zarins modernized the stories by incorporating today’s pop culture and experiences teenagers would face. She interpreted Chaucer’s characters to be people who exists in this age like incorporating LGBTQIA characters and genderbending them. I was deeply impressed that the stories stayed pretty much true to the original ones but interpreted differently to make it accessible for the modern audience.
- It’s less dense than Chaucer.
Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales has a way of making you want to bang your head against the wall sometimes. His stories are great, but there’s so much to trudge through, especially if you have to analyze his work. I had an easier time reading Sometimes We Tell The Truth than The Canterbury Tales because the stories captivated me and were more accessible.
- Women have a huge voice in this book.
In The Canterbury Tales, there weren’t a lot of women on the journey and who got to tell their stories, but in Sometimes We Tell The Truth, Zarins changed that. Zarin switches some of the male characters into females. This switch allows these women to be vocal about the crappy stories and representation men paints them in. They can point out the sexism and misogyny in the stories told about them. They also ask you to take a look at the different stories and why they’re told the way they are. It’s absolutely brilliant.
Zarins retells different stories in the same manner as Chaucer.
Chaucer uses stories like Aesop’s Tales and Ovid’s Metamorphoses in The Canterbury Tales; Sometimes We Tell The Truth keeps with the tradition of using other stories—modern ones that fits with the today’s readers—to recreate what Chaucer wrote. Readers will see retellings using Twilight, Charlotte’s Web, Chronicles of Narnia, and Sandman, as well as references to popular YA authors. (Take this excerpt. I couldn’t stop laughing.) Zarins retells these stories beautifully. You gotta appreciate it.
- Everybody’s sharing their stories.
That’s the beauty of this book—it’s about people and their stories. Everybody has a story to tell, and these students on their way to Washington D.C. are telling it. Everybody’s voice gets to be heard. They get to tell and work out the things that haunt them, make them ponder, or make them want things. They’re exploring sexuality, gender roles, sex, love, adoption, and so much more in their stories. They’re laying themselves out for everyone to see.
ISSUES I HAD: I did have issues with things in Sometimes We Tell The Truth. Some things could be better like the way these students are described (didn’t get a full insight into their character) and having these students stand out on their own (there’s a lot of characters, so it’s hard to remember them all). Some of the stories that these students tell are very inappropriate, so it’s kind of weird that they’ll be telling stories that contain a lot of sex in front of their teacher.
Should you read Sometimes We Tell the Truth? YES. You don’t have to be a fan of Chaucer or have read The Canterbury Tales to appreciate Sometimes We Tell the Truth. After you start reading the book, you’ll find yourself appreciating what Zarins achieves—the heartwarming, clever, or funny stories told; the interpretation of the stories and characters; the messages the stories send; and so much more.
There’s a lot to unpack in Sometimes We Tell The Truth. I think I could write a ten page paper about this book in relations to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, but I won’t. Sometimes We Tell The Truth is a fabulous modern retelling that Chaucer would’ve probably written if he was alive today. It’s absolutely riveting.