Gabriel Bergmoser, The True Colour of a Little White Lie, HarperCollins Children’s Books, April 2021, 264 pp, RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781460759097
This is Gabriel Bergmoser’s second young adult novel. The first, Boone Shepard’s American Adventure (Bell Frog Books, 2017), was a fast-paced, intricately plotted time-travel thriller along the lines of Eoin Colfer’s tremendously popular Artemis Fowl books. Though this first madcap novel promised sequels and prequels galore, Bergmoser’s second stand-alone book is entirely different. It is at once a more simple book, and a more sophisticated one too.
Nelson, a fourteen-year-old who is bullied at high school and has been coolly rejected by the girl he wants to ask out, discovers that on the ski slopes outside town, where his parents are running a restaurant during the winter season, he can be charming enough to engage the interest of two different girls, Adele and Juliet, at the same time. Is this a good thing for him, or for them? Should he let each of them know he likes the other girl too? Even though he is passionate about Juliet, his friendship with Adele seems to be more solid, and deeper.
Nelson seeks advice from the seasonal workers at the restaurant resort, and even looks for answers in his Hannibal novels. Of course, he makes the worst decisions possible, and then some more that threaten to be self-destructive (but prove to make him popular back at school). As a character, Nelson is something of a spectacle, for he doesn’t hesitate to tell as many people as he can of his dilemma over the girls, garnering through this openness an impression of the range of both wise and hopelessly inadequate decisions adults make in their own lives. This is a very real, and bright and funny and wise novel. It could generate some useful discussions too among readers—especially between young and older readers who might share it.
Though Bergmoser’s two novels are so different, they both carry a similar message about the importance for each of us of accepting our flaws, and with luck learning from them. In the first novel, Boone Shepard remarks to someone who has disappointed him, You’re human. It’s one of those inconvenient things we all have to deal with. Sooner or later we realise we aren’t the people we thought we were. In the second novel, Nelson has to pick himself up after his mistakes and remind himself that though he might have screwed up, he has all the rest of that day, and the next day too, to try to get it right. Perhaps Bergmoser has struck upon one of the keys to young adult fiction — that there is always time in a young person’s life to make changes or hope for change or ride the waves of change as they come along. Fourteen is an exciting age to be, even if it’s bedevilled by bad judgment.
Reviewed by Kevin Brophy