Leah’s Review of “Nothing But the Truth” by Holly James

By: Leah

Originally posted on Leah’s Books.

Nothing But the Truth

  • Author: Holly James
  • Genre: General Fiction
  • Publication Date: July 12, 2022
  • Publisher: Dutton Books

CONTENT WARNING: sexual harassment, racism, mild violence

Thank you to NetGalley and Dutton Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Plot Summary

In this sparkling, page-turning debut, Lucy Green learns that when you make a wish, you can’t always get what you want…but you might just get what you need.

It’s the eve of Hollywood publicist Lucy Green’s thirtieth birthday, a day she hopes will bring the promotion she deserves and a proposal from her boyfriend. But he stands her up for a date, not for the first time, leaving Lucy alone at the bar—or at least, alone with the handsome bartender on the other side of the counter—so she makes a rueful wish over her cocktail for a perfect birthday. But when Lucy’s wish is granted in the most unexpected way, things go terribly awry, as things often do when wishes come true….

When Lucy wakes up on her big day, she can’t seem to force herself to go through her rigorous fitness and beauty routines—things she usually tells herself she likes. She has no desire to eat only a spoonful of yogurt for breakfast and she simply can’t bear to put on the uncomfortable shapewear needed for the power outfit she had planned for work.

When Lucy arrives at the office, she realizes that not only can she no longer lie to herself, she can’t lie to anyone else, either. Not her clients, not her boyfriend, not her creep of a boss. Now that she can’t hide how she feels, Lucy must confront all the injustices—small and large—she’s faced on a daily basis at work, in her relationship, and in every other aspect of her life…and the truth is going to come out in a big way.

This sharp, bighearted, and magical novel tackles all the lies women are encouraged to tell just to get by in today’s world—in life, in love, and in the workplace—and the liberation that can come from telling nothing but the truth.

Overall Impression

I have to admit that I’m stunned that this is a debut novel, because it’s off the charts good. I was invested from early on, and found myself cheering throughout the novel. Before I had finished the third chapter, I already messaged a few of my friends and told them that they needed to add this one to their TBR lists, because it was already that good, and now that I’ve finished it, I’m telling all of you that this book seriously needs to be on your TBR if it isn’t already.

This book is basically a cross between Liar, Liar (yes, the Jim Carrey movie) and f@*k the patriarchy. James has taken a long, hard look at society and the expectations it places on women, about our bodies and what we are taught to want from a very young age, and questions all of it. 

“She realized she couldn’t blame them for their concern because, like her, they had been trained from a very young age to equate a woman’s appearance with her competence, intelligence, kindness, status—her value as a person.”

Lucy goes out for drinks the night before her birthday. Her boyfriend is supposed to meet her, but as usual, he cancels. She makes a wish for her birthday to be perfect, and when she wakes up, she discovers that she can’t lie. Which … should be a bad thing, but she works as a publicist. So her entire job boils down to her capacity to lie. She has to be able to lie to her clients and tell them everything is okay. She has to lie to the world and put on a face that isn’t hers. So when she can’t force herself to go to spin class, shove her body into uncomfortable shapewear to fit into the clothes she normally wears to work, and choke down a minuscule amount of yogurt with three blueberries and say she enjoys it, that might be a tiny problem.

“Did she really need to punish her body into a mold that wasn’t its natural state, that honestly hurt sometimes, and that she had to fight tooth and nail to maintain mainly for aesthetics?”

Instead, she decides to be her authentic self. Starting with small things, and moving on to larger stuff. I loved seeing her buck societal norms in favor of authenticity and comfort. Did she go to work in pajamas with her hair in a pineapple? No, but she did wind up wearing something comfortable and appropriate, while wearing the amount of makeup that felt most authentic and right for her. I loved seeing it. My social media feed is full of people who spend enormous amounts of time putting on more makeup in a day that I use in a full year, and I usually find myself thinking … where do they find the time to do this? Why spend all this energy making yourself look like a different person?

“She enjoyed things like pretty clothes and wearing makeup; she wouldn’t advocate against either as long as it was a choice. But where was the line between what she wanted for herself and what society pressured her to have, whether it was beauty standards, a relationship status, or something as life-altering as children? Somewhere, somehow, those expectations seeped into her brain like fact, and she lost track of where they ended and she began.”

Society often tells us that is isn’t okay to be who we are, look the way we do naturally, and want what we want if it is different than what we’re told we should want. Not everyone wants kids, or a marriage, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get married and have kids. But the problem lies in being told what we *should* want. And there’s even more of a problem with there being a timeline for it. Women are under immense pressure to follow societal expectations, and not just surrounding marriage and kids, but also how we behave. Women who speak up are “bossy,” “loud,” and “overbearing,” while men who do so are “ambitious,” “motivated,” and “driven.” This book discusses that, and the double standard that exists in the workplace. The advantages that are given to men just by way of their gender, while women have to work twice as hard just to get half the recognition. 

“Maybe there was no rush to get married, get a dog, pop out kids, buy a house, and live happily ever after. Ever after. What about living in the moment? Why was she making herself believe lies about the future that forced her to live her life on daily terms that didn’t make her happy?”

I absolutely fell in love with this book. The story, the characters, and the message were all conveyed in such a beautiful and relatable way. While there is a romantic subplot, it wasn’t overpowering, and definitely didn’t overshadow the main storyline, which is one of the most feminist stories that I’ve read. If there’s one “chick lit” book that you read this year, let this one be it.

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