In Betty Culley’s novel in verse, “Three Things I Know Are True” (HarperTeen 2020) teenage Liv will not give up on her older brother Jonah, who accidentally shot himself in the head with a gun belonging to his best friend’s father.
Now Jonah requires round-the-clock care to stay alive, at home, in their Maine mill town. Liv’s mother works a minimum wage job.
Last year when her father was alive, he’d lost his job when the mill closed. “He’d watch Clay’s father pull out of the driveway of Number 24 in his “Bugz Away” van and say, Now there’s a smart man—he’s his own boss, and as long as there’s bugs around, he’s got himself a job.” Now her mom is suing Clay’s family because his dad left a loaded gun in their attic. Liv isn’t supposed cross their street to Clay’s house, but she does. And she might be falling in love with Clay.
Clay has dropped out of high school and is working for his dad. Liv worries about Clay inhaling all that insecticide.
Liv senses her brother inside his wracked body, but their mother cannot. Liv understands that “Jonah has faces and sounds that mean different things. If you’re watching and listening, he will tell you what he wants, what he doesn’t want.” Mom, on the other hand, is retreating, working more hours: “I think the Schedule is Mom’s way of caring for Jonah without watching or listening.”
With the mill closed, the town depressed, townspeople are taking sides between Clay’s and Liv’s families. Liv messes up in school and is punished with service at the soup kitchen where she meets Hunter who is homeschooled. Hunter’s mom, a hippy who’s in touch with the earth and feelings tells Liv, “Trust your hands and they’ll lead you where you need to go.” Liv discovers she has good hands, hands that can massage Jonah such that he can stop thrashing, calm and fall sleep.
Thank heavens for the fabulous team of nurses who care for Jonah around the clock. Liv feels jealous that the nurses and Jonah have an intimate rapport that doesn’t involve her. She likens that jealousy to “the little animal inside me gets throw-something mad.” She says, “I know it’s wrong to feel this way about my brother, but the animal is hurt and won’t listen to reason.”
Liv’s friend Rainie is a compulsive shop-lifter—carrying that propensity inside people’s homes. Liv sees Rainie’s stealing as her wild little animal—her big flaw.
Author Betty Culley lives in a small river town in central Maine. She has worked as a pediatric home hospice nurse. She surely has the authority, voice, and wisdom to tell this insightful well-written story.
Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue and the new Lift As You Climb. She teaches community classes in writing at Parkland College. talesforallages.com