Review: Hidden Truths

Hidden Truths

by Elly Swartz

Delacorte Press, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Lisa Trank

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About-to-be-sixth-graders Dani and Eric are lifelong best friends and next door neighbors. Dani looks out for Eric, who struggles with ADD and being bullied; Eric supports Dani’s dream of pitching for the all-boy baseball team. When Dani finally achieves her goal, Eric is the first one there for her with their favorite treat, donuts: glazed for him and Boston cream for Dani.

On their annual summer camping trip, Eric insists on making their traditional mac and cheese, despite Dani telling him she just wants to head to bed. The next morning, when Eric is outside relieving himself, (because Dani has fallen asleep in front of the bathroom door), the almost-new camper bursts into flames. Eric risks his life and runs back inside and pulls Dani out.

Dani survives, but a broken tibia and nerve damage to her pitching arm means that she won’t be on the baseball mound this season, and maybe longer.

Eric believes he caused the fire since he cannot remember if he turned the camper stove off. Can he tell Dani that he thinks the fire, her injuries, and the end of her baseball season are all his fault? Eventually, Eric tells Dani, which causes a rift in their friendship. Even when they find out that what really caused the fire was not Eric’s forgetfulness, but a faulty lithium battery in a toy replica of the camper, Dani is too upset about her baseball dreams being shattered to return to how things used to be between them.

While recuperating in the hospital, Dani becomes friends with super popular Meadow, who was part of the crowd who bullied Eric. Dani allows herself to become a bystander to more bullying. Eric starts sixth grade without Dani and begins to hang out with his crush Rachel, with whom he teams up to expose the toy company, only to find out Rachel is appropriating what happened to Dani for her own purpose of getting into an elite private school.

With Dani’s permission, Eric succeeds in exposing the “truth” about the toy company. Both Dani and Eric learn that their new BFFs are not who they pretended to be and in that process, their own friendship is healed.

Hidden Truths, told in alternating/dual first person voices, is a tender coming of age story about friendship and courage. Readers will connect with each hero’s journey and with the trueness of Dani and Eric’s voices. Most of all, they will resonate with the message about showing up first for yourself, and believing in the power to heal the heart.

The Jewish representation is casual. Throughout the book, Eric has an on-going conversation with God, making deals to keep his room clean and other promises in exchange for Dani recovering. The conversations are not overtly Jewish as far as any particular prayers, and will be accessible to non-Jewish readers, who are sure to connect with the characters and the story.

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Reviewer Lisa Trank is a Longmont, Colorado based children's book and freelance writer with a focus on Jewish-themed stories, articles, and profiles. She is a member of Rocky Mountain Chapter of the SCBWI.