Betty Culley’s Three Things I Know Are True is an extremely beautiful debut novel detailing the horrors surrounding gun ownership and gun mishandling. Liv is a young girl in a collapsing rural town who faces the struggles of poverty and home life. Her issues are exacerbated when her older brother, Jonah, visits his best friend Clay and accidentally shoots himself with a gun in Clay’s home. The gun belongs to Clay’s extremely conservative father. Although Jonah survives, he is no longer the active and inspiring sibling that Liv remembers him as. The tragedy rips the little town apart, sparking an entire conversation about the complications behind gun control. However, in the midst of it all, Liv and Clay bond over a game called “Three Things I Know Are True.” The game requires the player to name three things they know are true about a topic. Through this game, they learn that they, and their families, have much more in common than they initially thought.
— HarperTeen (@harperteen) December 1, 2019
To me, a fascinating thing about this book is the way it’s written. Unlike a typical novel, Three Things I Know Are True is completely written in verse. This means that the novel reads more in fragments than in long, joined sentences. Admittedly, I was initially a little startled by the verse. However, as I read more of the novel, I started to understand this formatting a lot more. Everything reads like a camera panning a scene. As the reader, you take in things one by one, just like the real characters do. These shorter, choppier sentences ultimately allow readers to take in the moment and every little detail, which is beautiful. I started to appreciate every little thing the characters did, and the verse helped me invest in the novel and its characters a lot more.
Another thing that the verse did was that it accurately reflected the town’s situation. The jagged lines reflected the broken edges of the town. After Jonah’s accident, nothing flowed anymore in Liv’s small town and the broken passages fully reflected this. Every thought was spliced up and as a reader, I could truly sense the chaos and confusion that surrounded every figure. Overall, I think that the verse was definitely a huge highlight of the novel.
Culley’s ability to work with emotions is also a huge bonus. Throughout the book, there were multiple times where I was close to tears. She has the ability to write the perfect scenes that express love and empathy. Culley is able to use small scenes to radiate large emotions, from nurses comforting Liv by simply braiding her hair to meetings Clay has with Liv on the riverbanks. This continues from the theme I’ve discussed before, which is that she is capable of making even the smallest moments count. Through her emotional diction and concise speech, Three Things I Know Are True is not only beautiful, but also insanely powerful.
However, the most important bonus would have to be the ability Culley’s novel has to expose people to multiple perspectives. Culley covers all aspects of the gun issue, from those who want it gone completely to those who can’t bear to part with their firearms. Through vivid descriptions, she shows readers the entire spectrum of views through the limited characters in this small town. I really appreciated that Culley didn’t necessarily try to force a certain perspective, but was open to seeing all the sides of every issue. Even though the story is told by a girl who’s life has been affected entirely by the presence of guns, Liv doesn’t ever fully attribute Jonah’s death to guns. Her varying perspective is extremely relatable and reasonable, allowing readers to understand that it’s okay to be flexible.
I would say that this novel definitely went above and beyond my expectations. Culley’s writing is extremely smart and profound, teaching important life lessons about enjoying the little things and adopting a perspective.