Cover of Three Things I Know are True by Betty Culley. A stylized river

About the Book

Title: Three Things I Know are True
Published: 2020

Cover Story: Modern Art
Drinking Buddy: Drinking Alone
MPAA Rating: PG (adult themes)
Talky Talk: Books in Verse
Bonus Factors: Gun Rights, Long-Term Care
Bromance Status: Yeah

Cover Story: Modern Art

I guess that’s the river that plays such an important role in the book. But honestly, I’m not impressed.

The Deal:

Liv’s older brother, Jonah, was visiting his friend Clay’s house, when he found a gun on a windowsill. Despite Clay’s warnings, Jonah began to play with it and ended up shooting himself in the head. Jonah is now a shattered shell of the dynamic young man he used to be. He’s bedridden, mute, unable to perform even the most basic functions for himself, kept alive by machines and nurses who take shifts in the family home.

Liv’s mother is now suing Clay’s family for the injury to her son. What kind of people leave a loaded gun just sitting around? Clay’s family refuses to accept responsibility: at seventeen, Jonah was far too old to play with a firearm. The whole case turns into a referendum on gun rights, with everyone having very strong opinions either way. Liv’s mother is a single parent who can barely make ends meet and cannot afford this round the clock medical care. Clay’s family are blue collar workers who do not have three million dollars sitting around, should they lose the case.

Meanwhile, Clay’s family lives right across the street from Liv’s family. They all refuse to move, as that would be admitting defeat. Liv slowly begins talking to Nora, Clay’s mother, and Clay himself. She always liked her brother’s best friend, and if this tragedy hadn’t occurred, who knows what might have happened.

How can these two families move on from an episode that cannot be undone?

Drinking Buddy: Drinking Alone

Two pints of beer cheersing

Liv lives in isolation. She and her mother work constantly, and while Liv has a cadre of good friends, none of them truly understand what she’s going through. She’s met a nice musician named Hunter, but she’s really not interested in that sort of thing at the moment. She rarely leaves her brother’s bedside, but they can no longer communicate. Those grunts Jonah makes…is he trying to communicate? Trying to say her name? Or is his brain stem just firing randomly?

Clay has lost his best friend. and under normal circumstances, he and Liz could commiserate together. But Jonah was destroyed because of Clay’s father’s carelessness. Is that a chasm that can ever be bridged?

MPAA Rating: PG (adult themes)

This isn’t the most passionate book, with no romance or onscreen violence. At times, I felt the plot dragged just a little. But there were bits when Liv and Clay sat alone by the river, trying to resurrect a past that could never be reclaimed, when I was itching for either of them to make a move.

Talky Talk: Books in Verse

They they call these books in verse, but really, they’re more of a stream of consciousness thing. At well over 400 pages, I still breezed through this in an afternoon. No superfluous scenery descriptions or dialogue. Just whatever Liv happens to be thinking about or experiencing.

Liv is kind of the caretaker for everyone in the book. She looks out for her overworked mother, her vegetative brother, and even Nora, Clay’s mother, one of the people her family is suing. She wants to be angry, but she simply cannot blame Clay, who tried to stop the tragedy, or Jonah, who should have known better. She’s failing her classes and becoming increasingly isolated from her friends. But how could she be so selfish as to demand people worry about her needs? And yet, she suffers.

Bonus Factor: Gun Violence

Masked man pointing shotgun at the viewer

So Jonah’s case becomes a flashpoint about gun violence/rights. Half the public thinks Clay’s father was criminally negligent, leaving a gun out where anyone could pick it up. Others think that Jonah was hardly a toddler, and should have known better than to put a gun to his head, even as a joke. Gun owners must be held responsible! They’re going to be coming for your guns next! Go NRA! Remember Sandy Hook!

All Liv knows is that people keep leaving hate mail at their house and writing nasty letters to the editor. And if they win their case, Liv can go to college. But she’d feel that money would come at the expense of her brother’s well-being. Plus, she likes Clay and Nora and doesn’t want to see them ruined. But her family can’t keep paying for Jonah’s medical care. What’s the right thing to do?

Bonus Factor: Long-Term Care

Close up of a hand on a wheelchair wheel.

Now Jonah is not in a coma. He’s aware of his surroundings to some extent. But he does need machines to survive now. Machines to feed him and help him move and to help him breathe. Liv, her mother, and the nurses try everything they can to give Jonah a normal life, including getting Hunter to play him music and arranging a birthday party for him. But does he even realize what’s going on?

When he happens to see Clay across the street, Jonah sure seems to recognize him. And seems to miss his best friend.

Bromance Status: Yeah

Not exactly a pick-me-up, read over and over book, but I’m glad I read you.

Literary Matchmaking

They Both Die at the End

In They Both Die in the End by Adam Silvera, a character deals with a father in long-term care.

Long Way Down

Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down deals with the tragic aftermath of a deliberate shooting.

Hate List

As does Jennifer Brown’s Hate List.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or beer.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.