Any successful young adult (YA) fiction novel requires four elements: a plot leaving readers with a mixture of emotions, a setting described well enough to be pictured in a reader’s head, witty dialogue and, most importantly, main character(s) readers can recognize a piece of themself in. Calla Devlin’s debut novel, “Tell Me Something Real,” contains all of these elements and more in its 290 pages and explores the theme of a secret having the power to tear a seemingly stable family apart.
The William C. Morris Debut YA Award Finalist’s plot takes both the reader and main character, middle sister Vanessa Babcock, on a roller coaster of emotions. Diagnosed with a terminal strand of Leukemia, Vanessa’s mother regularly travels with her three daughters, Vanessa, Adrienne and Marie, to Mexico to receive a treatment banned in the United States.
Told in first person point of view, the novel describes Vanessa’s internal struggle as she accepts the fact that she has limited time with her mother. As the drives across the South California/Mexico border become more and more frequent, Vanessa’s bond with her older sister Adrienne and younger sister Marie becomes tighter. Through this bond, the novel explores the idea of the importance of a close-knit support system.
While at the clinic, Vanessa meets recovering Lymphoma patient Caleb. She soon learns that Caleb and his mother will stay with her and her family in South California.
Vanessa’s almost-perfect world shatters when Caleb’s now fully recovered state results in him moving back to Seattle and a betrayal from someone very close to her. This lie begins to splinter Vanessa’s relationship with her family, and leaves her crushed, her trusting personality from the beginning of the novel gone.
As the novel plays out, the consequences of deception take its toll. The second half of the book divulges into reactions to the fraud, and how Vanessa must reconsider what, as the title implies, is real, and what is a product of the deception.
Overall, this novel exceeded my expectations in the best way possible. With an intricate plot, which received well-deserved awards, unrealistic problems that reader can still relate to, a vivid 1970s setting and fast-paced dialogue, Calla Devlin’s Tell Me Something Real contains all the necessary elements for a successful YA novel.