Book review: Bill Konigsberg’s “The Porcupine of Truth”

I am well aware that this video is about hedgehogs.

It’s been literal months, I know. But to be fair, I have been busy. With my job, with taking part in writing workshops – I finished nothing, by the way – etc., etc., etc. But I’ve now finally managed to carve out some time from my “busy” schedule to pencil in this review.

I got my copy of Bill Konigsberg’s The Porcupine of Truth from the fine, fine people over at Scholastic, who had emailed me about reviewing James Phelan’s Thirteen (which I will talk about once I finish reading it) and included this book as a bonus, I guess?  But it just goes to show that they do know me well, because on the surface, The Porcupine of Truth is right up my alley.

LGBT characters? A healthy distrust of the pastor next door? A road trip? It was ticking all of my boxes and I ended up reading it first before Thirteen. But did this end up being a good decision on my part? Or did I just make another mistake in my long, long life of mistakes? Check under the cut to find out!

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The Porcupine of Truth tells the story of Carson Smith, a teenager who finds himself in Billings, Montana to take care of his alcoholic father. It’s definitely not something that he wants to do – the two of them have never had a good relationship, and the enforced closeness only makes Carson resent his father even more.

The only thing that has made his time in Billing worthwhile is the new friendship he’s struck with Aisha Stinson, a lesbian who’s been made homeless after her father throws her out of the house after finding out about her sexual orientation. Aside from their shared daddy issues, Carson is nursing a crush on Aisha, which is part of the reason why he’s asked her to stay with him in his father’s home while she works to get back on her feet.

While there, they end up finding some of Carson’s grandfather’s mementoes, which triggers a chain of events that has Carson and Aisha going on a road trip that leads them out west, all the way to San Francisco. Once there, Carson hopes to meet his grandfather and maybe, maybe, fix generations’ worth of Smith family daddy issues.

To be quite honest, I had a hard time getting into The Porcupine of Truth. I’ve never read any of Konigsberg’s previous works before, so I don’t know how Carson rates beside his other protagonists, but I did not find him interesting at all. Yet another white boy lusting after a lesbian?

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It’s the mystery of Carson’s grandfather – and the various characters Carson and Aisha meet while they try to solve it – that kept me persevering throughout the book. It reminded me a bit of Transamerica, except with less exposed genitalia and no Kevin Zegers.

Yes, it is absolutely necessary to add this photo to this review.
Yes, it is absolutely necessary to add this photo of Kevin Zegers to this review.

But things really pick up when Carson and Aisha finally reach San Francisco and discover the truth about Carson’s grandfather. I figured out Carson’s grandfather’s secret early on, but it still didn’t rob the reveal in the book of any of it’s impact. I was, literally, tearing up near the end. Konigsberg also doesn’t sacrifice verisimilitude for the sake of a happy ending. While all the character’s issues are resolved, it isn’t always in the way that you would expect.

This final third of the book is what really made the book a four-star read for me, and what made trudging through Carson’s inner thoughts worth it. While Konigsberg may not have convinced me to go out there and buy the rest of his oeuvre any time soon, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him to other guys looking for an LGBT YA story with a twist.

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