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Sometimes We Tell the Truth

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In this contemporary retelling of The Canterbury Tales, a group of teens on a bus ride to Washington, DC, each tell a story—some fantastical, some realistic, some downright scandalous—in pursuit of the ultimate prize: a perfect score.

Jeff boards the bus for the Civics class trip to Washington, DC, with a few things on his mind:
-Six hours trapped with his classmates sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.
-He somehow ended up sitting next to his ex-best friend, who he hasn’t spoken to in years.
-He still feels guilty for the major part he played in pranking his teacher, and the trip’s chaperone, Mr. Bailey.
-And his best friend Cannon, never one to be trusted and banned from the trip, has something “big” planned for DC.

But Mr. Bailey has an idea to keep everyone in line: each person on the bus is going to have the chance to tell a story. It can be fact or fiction, realistic or fantastical, dark or funny or sad. It doesn’t matter. Each person gets a story, and whoever tells the best one will get an automatic A in the class.

But in the middle of all the storytelling, with secrets and confessions coming out, Jeff only has one thing on his mind—can he live up to the super successful story published in the school newspaper weeks ago that convinced everyone that he was someone smart, someone special, and someone with something to say.

In her debut novel, Kim Zarins breathes new life into Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in a fresh and contemporary retelling that explores the dark realities of high school, and the subtle moments that bring us all together.

448 pages, Hardcover

First published September 6, 2016

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About the author

Kim Zarins

3 books67 followers
I'm a medievalist at Sacramento State University, and I also teach children's literature. My modernized retelling of the Canterbury Tales is called Sometimes We Tell the Truth. You don't have to know anything about Chaucer to enjoy the story, and if you know the Canterbury Tales, you'll see the novel on a whole other level. I hope you'll like it!

If you want to chat about books, it would be great to hear from you.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 168 reviews
Profile Image for Kim Zarins.
Author 3 books67 followers
July 31, 2016
I accidentally clicked that I wanted to read my own book--oops! May as well go full-scale cheesy with excitement, with all five starts glittering, and tell you I loved writing this book so much. I'm a medievalist, so retelling Chaucer's Canterbury Tales with modern teens was a dream come true. Whether you have never read Chaucer or are a complete fan, I hope you'll like my debut novel!
Profile Image for Jason.
230 reviews32 followers
July 16, 2017
Seconds after reading it: "Oh my fuck. This. Finally! The first book of the yr I want to shake in people's faces and scream, "READ THIS FUCKING BOOK... NOW!""

First, I’ll admit it.‘The Canterbury Tales’ collects dust on my shelf and I can't recall where I got it, though I am pretty sure I stole it from the work lounge, because, after all I am like a non-cannibalistic Liv Moore, and my craving is books.

You'll be able to relate to this one, trust me! It conjures up camping trips, substitutes willing the attention and respect of their students while avoiding projectiles flying their way, parents fed up with you kicking the back seat on a trip you thought was eons but was merely twenty minutes, oh, and for me that drinking game ‘two lies and a truth’ (side-dance, mine were always lies).

The story is about Jeff, a kid that is arms length from the popular kids, and owes his delicate popularity to a guy named Cannon. But it really isn't about him at all, well not completely. It’s about the stories of SO many characters, and to a large extent how he filters them through his own schemas. It’s a story of each of their self reflections, and dialog abounds, and we are observers, elves behind their eyes, seeing the world as they do. And it’s the story, for all of them, of coming to terms with the vulnerability of adulthood, and all the jumbled chaos and conflicts that come with it.

So, Jeff and the group that is essentially the ‘Breakfast Club’, are traveling to DC and the tour guide and moderator of stories is Mr. Bailey. He’s all bulldog and grinding teeth because some students thrashed his house during a party.

This novel is so significant, because, at its very core it’s so bloody believable. These kids don't get into some deep, eye rolling, not developmentally appropriate philosophical nonsense. No, they lay down believable narratives. And then, in between, after, and later as they make parallels between stories, they criticize, and they evaluate them, and you can recognize these individuals in their developing understanding of the world. And they badger each other according to social alliances and gender differences. You can imagine as an adult wanting to push their thoughts further. But their thoughts, they are so raw, so rough, so untouched by an adult lens, that it is… everything.

There is this sense of loss. A loss of the comfort of how they related to themselves and others for over a decade. And there is loss between them in terms of potential romances, and friendships stretched and torn, but mostly deficits in how they trusted themselves, how they ultimately knew themselves and the safety that afforded. With Jeff, handsome Jeff that so many pine for, their is a introspection that makes you cringe, want to tear up, get impatient, and at times made me want to take him by the collar and scream, spit inducing boiling point screaming.

I’ve never read anything like this, and the things I fault in it are also the things that, if completely resolved would have ruined the book. Conflicted? Yup!

Because the author seemed so astute at assembling a cast of believable characters and kicked it in terms of the dialog and developmental appropriateness, the times there was a bit of slacked was so evident.

There were characters that the author invested so deeply that it was almost like they were sitting next to me telling me their stories. And these same characters vaulted into discussions, and they analyzed, and they showed so much of themselves. Yet, there were characters like Reeve and Cookie, whom, not because of shyness or another characteristic that would substantially influence their behaviors (ok being blitz), just seemed to exist. I felt less of an intimate connection with them compared to others. The author didn't fully offer up every single molecule the way she did, say, with Kia or Briony. Yet, it must be mentioned that this issue was somehow mitigated because there were prologues before many of the less explored characters.

But my biggest complaint was Jeff’s stories. He's the centerpiece, and so much time is dedicated to his self-reflection, hesitating to engage with others and express his thoughts on the stories, and what this means for understanding him, that when his name was picked, and he had to stumble through his story, well, when you were five, and you open that package, and you are sure it’s an Xbox from your rich grandmother, but it’s just a book… that’s how I felt. This was also, unfortunately, the edge of a bigger issue that I had. Adolescence, with social media and news that throws complexity into teens’ lives more than previous generations, has a unique constellation of problems. School shootings, a heroin epidemic, and just the enormity of the contents of their TV shows, is overwhelming. While situations such as mental heath, sexual abuse, texting while driving, unprotected sex, and bullying were obviously part of the fabric of teenagers’ lives in previous generations, exposure to it, even if not personal, is all around them. I needed to see stories representing these things. While sexual abuse was at the forefront of one—or if you want to consider it, a part of various stories—, issues such as guns, drug abuse, bullying, eating disorders, etc, simply floated as topics or weren't broached. For me this was a missed opportunity. Ultimately I just wish the author sledgehammered the reader a bit more. My issues with this book are probably compounded by the series ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ because the writers methods came with razorblades.

There were obviously advantages with being more vague. With one prominent character—dear author, yes and yes! fucking love you!!—his real expression of his authentic self was handled perfectly, because all too often writers lay things down in a way that is with intentions to teach, or worse exploits marginalized individuals. Thank you endlessly for not focusing extensively on physicality. Gosh, that was so… just a YES MOMENT!

And then the ending. Oh that ending. Those carefully constructed paragraphs, and the way the narrative was so measured, and the way the author provided the reader with uncertainty, like I really understood that there would be a future of still trying to figure things out, of still trying to repair relationships that had rented the space of insecurities…………. fucking perfection!!!!!

Cheers to a wonderful, important, and valuable contribution to Y/A. I highly recommended. I also have to say, and I am pretty confident here, that this author is a person of substantial awesomeness. Check her out on you-tube as she does a reading, and where she dorks out in the best way. My only regret is that this was a library loan. I don't often condone the purchase of books, because I fancy saving money and my library is a stone throw, but I think, given how spectacular this book is, and that It’s one that certainly could be tossed around to friends, that it should be on your purchase list!
Profile Image for Paige (Illegal in 3 Countries).
1,226 reviews391 followers
April 12, 2021
See more of my reviews on The YA Kitten! My copy was an ARC I got from the publisher via Edelweiss.

I read parts of The Canterbury Tales in high school, but not the whole yet incomplete work. The three tales my teacher chose for us failed to leave an impact on me, but a modern retelling with a bunch of high school kids on a long bus ride to Washington DC sounded like fun.

IT WAS NOT. I spent 285 pages in hell.

To start with, our narrator Jeff is homophobic and sexist. He ended his friendship with classmate Pard when Pard confessed to having a crush on Jeff. When it seems like they might reconcile and sexuality-questioning Jeff is considering whether he has feelings for Pard, the other boy has a revelation for him: he's intersex and the photo Jeff always thought was of Pard's deceased twin sister was of Pard himself. Homophobic Jeff gets spooked again.

I have no qualms about revealing this plot twist because gender and sexual identity are not a fucking plot twist. Seeing as this is the point at which I quit reading the book, it's likely Jeff gets over it and gets with Pard. I can't be sure of it, though. If someone wants to make me finish this abominable book, they'd need to pay me $15 per hour of reading so I get something for my suffering. My time is money.

But that fix wouldn't erase the horrific characterization of CeCe, the class's resident feminist. She wears formless clothes, has very hairy armpits Jeff can't stop focusing on, and will argue anything. If you know of a stereotype about feminists, CeCe is that exact stereotype to an extreme. Her reasonable complaints about how women are treated in the first three stories are mixed with more foolish fare like being mad when five boys in a row tell stories when there are more boys in the class than girls. It's just a mathematical fact a boy being chosen to speak has a higher statistical probability than a girl being chosen. Sometimes We Tell the Truth is deeply against feminism.

Look. I know The Canterbury Tales was full of exaggerated, stereotypical characters for comedic reasons. Sometimes We Tell the Truth is doing the same thing, but making some of those stereotypes a predatory gay and a strawman feminist isn't funny, it's just punching down on the marginalized. The teacher says at one point that someone is bound to be offended by a classmate's story, but that doesn't exempt them from criticism of sexism and multiple instances of rape. Most of the stories aren't that bad, just bawdy things full of tricks and sex. I actually liked one that was straight-up fanfiction of Twilight with a vampire crow. It's the characters outside the stories that make this novel an unbearable experience.

I really, truly intended to finish Sometimes We Tell the Truth. I wanted to see if the book redeemed itself and provide a review for a book with barely any reviews even when we're approaching five years since its release. My motivation got me through 285 pages before my sheer degree of misery and the realization that I was only at the halfway point did me in. This is a book best left forgotten.
Profile Image for Lisa Ramée.
Author 7 books219 followers
July 31, 2016
I was blown away by this book and okay yes I'm a Chaucer fan but that's not why I loved it so much. Interestingly it reminded me of Rowell's Fan Girl, with its mix of original fan fiction and storyline. Jeff Chaucer's confusion with his friendships and his sexuality were so well done. In fact all the characters-and there's a LOT are so fully realized. How Zarins managed to keep so many voices distinct is just amazing. I loved all the stories the students told-even Cookie's! There was a little something for everyone. Humor, romance, myth, tragedy. Zarins never gets preachy and yet there are so many lessons here. Just fantastic.
Profile Image for Marci Curtis.
Author 2 books266 followers
September 1, 2016
Oh wow...

This book, guys. It SLAYS.

Yes, it's a genius contemporary retelling of The Canterbury Tales, but it also has this fantastic Breakfast Club vibe that's brave and honest and raw. It's about loneliness and togetherness, and it's about turning away from things and accepting things, and it's about finding out who you are by discovering who you aren't.

A riveting story that I couldn't put down.
Bravo, Kim Zarins.
Profile Image for Ari.
977 reviews106 followers
May 29, 2017
What a nice surprise!
Sometimes We Tell The Truth (SWTTT) is a contemporary retelling of The Canterbury Tales.
I didn't even know The Canterbury Tales when I picked this tittle, so my opinion is based on this book alone, not goin to compare this book with The Canterbury Tales whether this retelling live up the original work or not.

SWTTT is when teenagers not overly angst over everything, and you'll surprised how much fun they are. A group of teens on a bus ride to Washington, DC, for a field trip, each tell a story—some fantastical, some realistic, some downright scandalous—in pursuit of the ultimate prize: a perfect score. I love every story they told, even Cookie's! Their story included friendship, family, sexuality, rape culture, mythical creature, even feminism.

This book has a lot of characters with their own story, you might find it difficult to keeping track with whose story who. But never mind it, you'll enjoy all of it.

Another highlite of this book is the existence of LGBTQIA characters. Jeff, the narrator of the book, confused with his growing attraction toward his friend Pard, which later on revealed surprising fact about Pard. And I looooooove their ending! *wink*

So, recommended? YESSSS!

Profile Image for Suzanne Morrone.
23 reviews18 followers
August 5, 2016
I was able to read an ARC of this book, and I loved it. The voices of the teenagers were so great, I immediately felt like I was on the bus with them. And while, at first, some of the kids, the boys especially, seemed superficial, their stories, and the reactions to other's stories hinted at depths that made them really come alive.

Jeff is the narrator, and he has many secrets that eventually are revealed, with several more only hinted at. I'd love to see these kids in another book ... maybe on their bus ride home.

I especially loved how the boys and girls chose sides, arguing from their unique viewpoints about relationships and sexism in the stories. There were really interesting discussions that seemed extremely true to life and realistic. I'll bet the author has heard many of these same arguments in her own classroom.

While it was hard to connect with 24 characters at first, it was also amazing how much I ended up being interested in what was happening with each of them, and enjoying their individual stories. I got a real feeling of community growing through the book, and wanted more. I guess that's my main takeaway. I cared enough to keep wanting more of this group kids.

And, since this book is a modern retelling of The Canterbury Tales, I can see how this book should be used in every high school with kids getting to write compare and contrast essays on the two books. I think it will do nothing but add to their understanding and enjoyment of Canterbury Tales.
Profile Image for Lynn.
1,143 reviews68 followers
March 1, 2017
This is a well written book, however I'm not going to rate it because it didn't hit what I happened to be in the mood for in my reading. That's no fault of the book. I wanted something light and breezy and fast and this was not that.

This book would work well in a discussion group be it a book club, or even better, a classroom. It's a retelling of the Canterbury Tales. It's set in a contemporary setting. The narrator/mc wasn't someone I could relate to or that I even liked for most of the book until the very end but he was interesting. He came around at the end a little too suddenly.

All the characters tell their tales which are based on the originals but with modern twists that make their own commentary. It begs to be discussed. I don't have a ton of reading time so it worked in that it was very easy to put down and it was naturally divided up by the individual tales. However, it also kept me a little disengaged and I had a hard time picking it back up at times. It's hard to know if the disengagement was due to the format of the book or my lack of reading time to get very far with any given reading.
Profile Image for Karen Fortunati.
Author 1 book103 followers
August 27, 2016
Let me say flat out, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BRILLIANT DEBUT by Kim Zarins. You need to know absolutely nothing about Canterbury Tales (C.T.) to fully enjoy it. Zarins takes the C.T. format - travelers coming together on a journey who each tell a tale - and makes it her own masterful, engrossing and moving story. The majority of the action takes place on the bus from Connecticut to DC and each student on board tells a story - fact or fiction - for the ultimate prize of an A in Mr. Bailey's class.

The narrator is high school senior Jeff who struggles with a number of issues, not the least of which is his growing attraction to his best and male friend. Between the individual tales - which alone are fabulous - we learn more and more about Jeff - his family tragedy, his low self-confidence, his dreams and of course, his conflicted feelings over his best friend. The large, rambuctious and lovable cast of characters pops off the page and out of the many, many YA novels I've read this year, Zarins' dialogue is one of the best! It's an absolute joy to read - fast, sharp, funny and heartbreaking! Zarins also shines in the way she has crafted the individual tales to allow peeks of the truths hidden inside.

Themes of sexuality and gender roles are handled with grace and honesty and real emotion. Zarins' writing is gorgeous and stopped me in my tracks many times - I had to go back and reread a number of stellar passages. Sometimes We Tell the Truth comes out on September 6, 2016 and I'm so grateful to have had the privileg to read an arc. I am ordering right now - can't wait to read it again!

Profile Image for Kimberly.
14 reviews12 followers
August 3, 2016
After sitting 4-hours-a-day, 3-days-a-week for 11 weeks in a lecture ALL about Chaucer, I was DONE. That class was not easy to sit through without checking FaceBook, E-mail, or texting a few friends to come rescue me. 

Chaucer was not my beloved Bard, and he certainly wasn’t someone I planned on re-reading — unless it was on the M.A. Exam.

Thanks to a 2-week summer course, I was given the opportunity to read an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Sometimes We Tell the Truth. Let me tell you, I was a bit daunted by the fact that it was Chaucer, a man that I had hated for the past 3 quarters. 

However, I forced myself to sit down, pull out the book, and start reading. I went into the reading hesitant. I love retellings; I do not love Chaucer. 

After reading Kim Zarins’ retelling of The Canterbury Tales, I found out that I also sometimes tell the truth. While I may continue my dislike of Chaucer, I do have to say that I loved Zarins’ retellings.

Half of the time in my class, I could NOT understand a word of Chaucer. On the other hand, I was able to understand Zarins’ 100% of the time. I was even able to match her retellings with Chaucer’s Tales. I actually learned something!

Thanks to Zarins, I plan on reading other retellings of epics or tales that I had previously hated in hopes of understanding their predecessors. Zarins did a great job of making it relatable and understandable for kids, teens, and adults! 

I can NOT wait for more novels by Zarins — hopefully retellings! I plan on showing this one to my Chaucer professor. 

Chaucer: 2/5

Zarins: 4.7/5
Profile Image for Trixie.
261 reviews3 followers
July 1, 2016
I picked up this ARC at ALA (American Library Association) Annual conference since I forgot the book I was reading and needed something for the plane on the way home. I didn't realize that it was a retelling of The Canterbury Tales when I started, but something seemed familiar. I dig stories about storytelling, the power of story and how much the stories we tell reflect ourselves. I thought this was great - sad, heartwarming, funny, fantasy, fanfic, and even zombies! Great debut, I think teens will like it.
Profile Image for Forever Young Adult.
3,015 reviews425 followers
April 25, 2017
Graded By: Brian
Cover Story: Now Draweth Cut, Er That We Ferrer Twynne
Drinking Buddy: Wel Loved He by the Morwe a Sop in Wyn
Testosterone Level: To Lyven in Delit Was Evere His Wone, For He Was Epicurus Owene Sone
Talky Talk: In This Viage Shal Telle Tales Tweye
Bonus Factors: In Felaweshipe, and Pilgrimes Were They Alle, That Toward Caunterbury Wolden Ryde; Here Bygynneth the Book
of the Tales of Caunterbury
Bromance Status: I Saugh Nat This Yeer So Myrie a Compaignye Atones in this Herberwe as is Now

Read the full book report here.
Profile Image for Ainjel Stephens.
134 reviews
August 5, 2018
4.5 Stars.


I stumbled upon it at the library, and it is a gem. Zarins is able to modernize the Canterbury Tales in a way that feels fresh and relevant, and she is able to create 24 completely unique character voices. The characterization is spot on, and the teenage humour is nailed perfectly. The references are very relevant, and the characters all seem so real. At times it can be a bit melodramatic, with the "everyone's got a story that could break your heart" theme, but the pros outweigh the cons. There's not one character I didn't end up falling in love with, or finding myself, in them. Jeff, I found to be unlikable at times, but it's only because I saw so much of myself in him, and his choices were frustrating (as in yell-at-your-book-Jeff-what-are-you-doing frustrating) but I think this is only because they are the choices that most of us would make, or have made, and then hate ourselves for. In the end, I did end up loving him, bad choices and all.

His character arc is beautiful, albeit rushed, but when the book happens over 6 hours, it's only to be expected that any development feels rushed. I loved the surprising romance arc, but it felt so natural and genuine that I couldn't picture anything else. It warmed this cold little heart of mine.

Pard. I could talk about him for days. I don't want to spoil anything, but if you don't fall in love with Pard, what are you doing wrong? (I might just love him so much because the Pardoner's story is one of the best -- this might be the same reason I love Alison, based upon The Wife of Bath, but I choose to believe I love them mainly because Zarins treats them so delicately, like true human beings who can feel and who hurt but who love, love, love).

This book surprised me in all the best ways. The characters are lovely, and it's honestly one of the best modernizations I have ever read. Did I mention that this book has fantastic representation, and we get to hear from a lot of voices normally silenced in fiction? It's not a perfect book, but it's near close, and I can't stop singing its praises. Give this book a shot, let it surprise you, and maybe you'll even fall in love like I did.
Profile Image for Mina.
361 reviews6 followers
February 11, 2018
"I would have told you all to follow your hearts and put your own experiences before anyone else's advice. No one knows you better than you do, so be true to that."
Profile Image for Rosita Alfieri.
424 reviews37 followers
September 10, 2018
Durante il viaggio in autobus per Washington DC, il professor Bailey propone un modo particolare di tenere impegnata la sua vivace classe liceale: una gara di storie. A turno ognuno dei suoi studenti racconterà una storia inventata sul momento.
Il tutto ci viene narrato dal punto di vista di uno degli studenti, Jeff, che durante il viaggio avrà modo di affrontare alcune pesanti questioni in sospeso.

Dopo una serie di letture non proprio entusiasmanti finalmente ci siamo: Sometimes We Tell the Truth si è rivelato essere proprio il libro che avevo bisogno di leggere in questo periodo.

Mi è piaciuto tantissimo!

Nonostante il fattore Storie mi rendeva perplessa all'inizio, è poi diventato chiaro che le storie raccontate dagli studenti non interrompessero necessariamente la narrazione principale ma che si incastrassero perfettamente.

Le storia mi sono piaciute più o meno tutte seppur in modo diverso in quanto le storie sono state davvero molto varie: si spaziava tra tempi e universi diversi, e avevano tematiche diverse.

Ogni storia poi, era essenziale per capire la personalità di ogni personaggi. D'altronde in un libro del genere con così tanti personaggi, è evidente che le storie da essi narrati rappresentano il modo migliori per imparare a conoscerli.

Questo ovviamente vale per tutti tranne che per Jeff e Pard. Il loro legame è quello su cui poggia l'intero libro. Un tempo migliori amici, poi si sono allontanati per motivi che sembrano legati all'omosessualità di Pard.

Pard è la questione in sospeso di Jeff ed è il loro legame che seguiamo nella storia.

Il loro rapporto è la cosa che mi è piaciuta di più nel romanzo. Quello che mi ha tenuta incollata alla pagine. Ci sono state delle scene tra di loro che mi hanno toccato il cuore e che mi hanno fatto fare degli urletti imbarazzanti.

L'autrice inoltre riesce a trattate il tema della sessualità e dell'identità di genere in maniera molto creda e realistica e come poco volte mi era capitato di leggere.

Ultima cosa, ma non meno importante: mi è capitato diverse volte di lamentarmi che i personaggi in un libro non riuscissero ad avere una buona evoluzione. Mentre qui, nonostante la storia si svolga davvero in poco ero (diciamo una mezza giornata) Jeff e Pard subiscono un evoluzione incredibile, specialmente Jeff, che alla fine del romanzo è riuscito a fare un suo percorso diventato un personaggio a tutto tondo.

Sono davvero felice di aver avuto la possibilità di leggere questo libro.
Profile Image for Malka.
244 reviews60 followers
February 26, 2017
This is a great book and a great retelling. The one thing I disliked was that there were no trigger warnings for this book. This book has a lot of discussions on consent and many times uses non-consensual stories to prove a point. I still enjoyed the book for the most part, because of the great writing, stories, and discussions, but I couldn't fully enjoy it due to the content of some of the stories.
Profile Image for Cee.
2,384 reviews99 followers
June 1, 2017
This was an absolutely AMAZING read!

I've never read the Caunterbury (?) Tales and probably only heard of it a few times so, I can't say much about how these two stories relate to one another. I do know that as a a modern high school setting book I thought this was done really well.

For starters, I thought it was cool how the cast was -somewhat- diverse. Really, we only know the skin colors of a few of the teens and I think that is cool because it leaves everyone else open for interpretation. Also, in terms of sex and gender I thought this was good. AND much talk on feminism and how women are portrayed in media. BLESS!!!
The way our narrator reacted, and that of most of the teens seemed really realistic and the times when things were exaggerated made the story interesting and thought provoking.

I really enjoyed the stories the teens told because it seemed to represent them, how some teens act, and give depth to them all.

I picked this book up and really did not want to put it down. It is one of those books where things are not intense yet, I just had to know what would happen next or who would tell the next tale. The love story, I was NOT expecting and it is only a small part of the book yet, it added so much especially since it was not a part of the synopsis so it was able to blossom without me knowing it would. I really enjoyed it.

This book has so many great qualities and lessons I think should be taught. After I finish this review I will be telling my friends about this book and how they need to read it! This is a book I think I will even want to read again later down the line.

Recommend?! YES!! Go read this book, all of you!
Profile Image for Meagan.
203 reviews12 followers
October 11, 2016
Okay I know that because i'm a 12th grade English Teacher i'm automatically more inclined to totally nerd out over books that adapt the material I teach but YOU GUYS! This book is freaking FLAWLESS!

As I was reading I was picking things that I could use in class to supplement our reading and I was lucky enough to get to talk on Twitter with Kim Zarins about the ideas i'm having for how to incorporate her book with my teaching.

She does EVERYTHING I do when I teach these stories. It helps SO MUCH to have a teacher do this adaptation. The lessons you spend 45 minutes basically pulling teeth to get the students to understand and get the point, she flawlessly put in here. ESPECIALLY The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. Holy crap Allison's prologue and tale is PERFECT. Jeff does such an amazing job at giving voice to the POV that all teens have once they actually understand the WoB.

The whole book is like that. It's like she took the commentary that modern day teens in a classroom have about these tales and built it into the tales themselves! Discussions of intense topics like sexism, sexual assault, PTSD, death ABOUND here and you get to see the real lived experiences of these teens through the tales.

She takes and OLD piece of literature, breathes new life into, AND makes it more accessible and understandable for teens. I can't WAIT to use this in class!
Profile Image for Sylvia.
Author 5 books112 followers
September 6, 2016
When I read the first story about zombies vying for the love of a human scientist, I knew I would be in for a wild ride in this modern retelling of the Canterbury Tales, set on a senior class bus trip to DC. Kim Zarins has done a masterful job of weaving together stories that are funny, tragic, bawdy, romantic, and surprising--much like the characters who tell them. The narrator, Jeff Chaucer, is particularly compelling as he faces both the usual struggle of trying to fit into the high school social hierarchy and the more complex journey of mending and redefining his relationship with his ex best friend. Throw in secrets and confessions from his classmates, revelations about a senior prank gone wrong, and explorations of what it means to love and connect with others, and you've got an amazing book. Like the original work, Zarins uses entertaining stories (that include their fair share of sex and farts) to provide commentary on social and other issues of the day.

Sometimes We Tell the Truth is a great standalone novel for older teens (for the explicit content), as well as an accessible and relevant companion to anyone struggling to read the original Canterbury Tales in Middle English (all of us except for medieval historians like Zarins).
6 reviews1 follower
August 20, 2016
Kim Zarins's SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH is a story within a story within a story, each one entertaining, and each hiding wisdom at its core. First, there's the story of a class of hormonally hyped-up high school seniors, on their way to DC on a bus, who've been challenged to a storytelling contest by their teacher. Second, there are the no-holds-barred tales they tell, both raunchy and far-fetched, to win the prize of an easy A: a zany mix of tales that mirror those of Chaucer's bawdy pilgrims so long ago. Can you say sex, more sex, zombies, and fan fiction? Finally, there's the framing story of the narrator Jeff, a writer whose struggle to find his place--creatively, socially, sexually, and romantically--is the strongest tale of the bunch. Zarins explores Jeff's longings and regrets so deftly that it's clear, while she's an expert on Chaucer, she's also an expert on the human heart.
Profile Image for Ann.
Author 4 books8 followers
August 21, 2016
Who thought a Chaucer could become a 21st Century storyteller?

This is a beautifully told, fun and heartbreaking story about a group of teens and their multi-layered journey to Washington DC, as they interact, joke, offend, and learn about each other, divulging their personal truths through stories. Zarins, and so the reader, move seamlessly between the reality of the bus ride and the teens' tales, which range from bawdy to platonic, from zombies to kings and queens to Harry Potter and beyond. Throughout you'll find passages so delicious they cry for re-reading, but it's probably wiser to bookmark them and go back after you've finished so you don't interrupt the ride.

Zarins wisely includes two lists of characters -- one to help readers keep the individuals straight, and the other outlining the parallels to Chaucer's characters. But you don't need to know Chaucer, or even be an English major, to enjoy this modern story and the teens' timeless searches for understanding and love.

45 reviews1 follower
April 6, 2018
OH MY GOSH. This book is pure genius. I haven’t read the Canterbury tales or anything but I am completely amazed at how fantastic this is. It’s a combination of romance and high school drama, while also incorporating other genres in the stories being told. I am fascinated and will honestly reread in a few weeks.
1,065 reviews72 followers
August 29, 2019
I really enjoyed this! Very clever reworking of the Canterbury Tales, both adapting the original stories and reimagining them in a modern context. I particularly enjoyed the way Zarins used fanfiction and had her characters use existing characters to tell their stories, reflecting the way Chaucer draws on Classical literature and well-known stories when telling HIS. She talks about it in the author's note and I thought it was a really intriguing way of approaching it.

There was maybe more discussion of sex in this than I was expecting (though... I should have been expecting it, I've read enough Chaucer to know that it's a major theme), and it also deals with some heavy themes. Some CWs for you: I have to admit at one point I started just... quietly sobbing into it, although I should point out that I read this entire book between about 2am and 4am because I couldn't sleep, so I was definitely... not at my most emotionally stable.

This was also quite a satisfying read for me as a medievalist who has done SOME Chaucer but not a huge amount, because I got to test how many of the Canterbury Tales I actually knew -- and I was surprised how many of them I was able to identify without having to check the back of the book to see which character they were meant to correspond to. I particularly enjoyed the reworking of the Franklin's Tale as Harry Potter fanfic... I failed to identify some of the most obvious characters, like Pard (the Pardoner), mostly because they're just not Chaucerian characters I've ever done any work on and so while I know them by name, I wasn't in a position to pick them out as easily as those whose stories I knew better.

Regarding Pard...

Anyway, this book is excellently queer (there's an AMAZING scene between Parson, wearing a JESUS t-shirt he's accidentally dyed pink, and Pard, and I very much enjoyed it), and in places very funny, but it's not all a light-hearted romp, so I'd bear those CWs in mind if you're going to embark on it, especially if you're unfamiliar with Chaucer's material and don't know what to expect.
51 reviews
July 6, 2017
“It is a fact universally acknowledged, that a young, unmarried woman is in want of a dolphin.”

In a modern day retelling of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, twenty-two high school seniors sharing a Civics class, their young, hopeful teacher, Mr. Bailey, and a disgruntled bus driver take a class trip to Washington D.C. How does Kim Zarins’ debut novel, Sometimes We Tell the Truth, adapt The Canterbury Tales to a modern day high school field trip? Zarins has each student tell a story and whoever has the best story by the end of the trip will receive an automatic A in the class. Our narrator, Jeff Chaucer, a shy writer, quietly watches the tales unfold while giving readers a glimpse into his own story where he and his ex-best friend haven’t spoken in months and the truth of what happened behind the senior prank gone wrong comes unveiled. In the nine hour bus ride, Jeff is forced to realize that while he may have gone to school with these kids for the last four years, he never really knew them until this day. Zarins does a fantastic job of giving attention to each storyteller throughout this novel, keeping them in character, and keeping each character uniquely their own.

While Zarins is obviously using The Canterbury Tales as a foundation for this story to follow, she pulls from other authors when the students tell their own story, using fanfiction to give each student a voice. Pard uses Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels to tell his own story using DEATH’s character and three original characters to tell the story of his broken friendships and how he was betrayed by his best friend, Jeff. Many of the students put one another in the stories to add familiarity and fun to the storytelling or just to put a classmate in their place. Mari, a writer like Jeff, creates a continuation of Charlotte’s Web where one jock classmate, Rooster, plays a cocky, sex-crazed rooster who almost gets his neck bitten off by a fox because of vanity. Narnia, Harry Potter, and King Arthur’s court all appear as background worlds for some of the stories, giving credit to the stories that influenced these students’ childhoods just as The Canterbury Tales pulls on classic medieval literature.

The number of characters does make it difficult to keep track of who’s who at first. That’s why Zarins includes a Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the novel with detailed descriptions of each student. This novel is hilarious, distinctive, and a treasure to read. Each character pops out of the page, but most importantly, Sometimes We Tell the Truth has saved me from ever having to read The Canterbury Tales!

“I’m going to write this whole thing. I’m going to write everyone’s stories and make a novel of it. A NOVEl. Not just the stories, but everything. The interruptions, the bickering, the coffee breaks. It’s going to be about loneliness and finding each others’ truths on the slant through the stories they tell. It’s going to be about lies and big reveals and how we shuffle and deal the cards and bet our souls away. It’s going to be about EVERYTHING.”
1 review
October 3, 2017
To be honest I went into this book with no previous knowledge of Chaucer or his Tales. My mom had gotten me a copy at a Harry Potter event, so I decided to read it(It was signed personally to me! How could I not be interested?). Anyways I instantly was hooked after reading the first page and I fell completely head-over-heels for this book after reading the prologue!
The uniqueness of this story astounded me, there were many references to things I loved but the plot was something I had never seen done before. The stories were so incredible and I loved analyzing how they represented the characters. Don't even get me started on the characters.
I found a little bit of myself in everyone but most of all Jeff, Sophie, Mari, and especially Pard(who is officially one of my favorite characters ever!). It was amazing to see the struggles of being a teenager portrayed so accurately.(Especially loved Pard being gay and intersex, I've been really questioning my gender lately and seeing a character like him makes me insanely happy).
(And sorry but sadly I do not share Jeff's talent for writing but I just wanted to let you know that this book has definitely earned its place on my "Favorite books" corner of my bookshelf)
Thank you for telling this story, and inspiring me to someday tell my own.
Profile Image for Rainy Rose.
231 reviews29 followers
May 13, 2022
This book was probably not for me. I had a really hard time trying to finish it. I never read The Canterbury Tales or any of Chaucer's works before (probably one of the reasons too) so I don't really know the views the writer was trying to portray in Sometimes We Tell the Truth.

This book was mainly about a bunch of teenage school kids taking turn in telling their stories, fictional or non-fictional. This was an assignment assigned by their teacher, Mr. Bailey, when they were on a school trip to Washington, D.C.

The kids' stories were mostly dark and sometimes funny, but none of them were really that interesting to me. The main character, Jeff, who was considered as the genius writer and story teller in the class was like in his own world, with conflict and guilt. And that, didn't make this book any better.

I'm not really into this book and just like I said before, probably it was not for me. I just wish that some of the kids in this book were not that horny all the time.
Profile Image for Sam Kiff.
48 reviews
March 15, 2019
I adore this book. This group of students ranges from the popular, The in the middle kids, and the complete outcast. Yet, there is a sense of community within the group. Each one gets to tell a story during their 6 hour bus ride to D.C. Each story is different. Some are true, while some are not. The main character, and narrator, Jeff, is only trying to fit in. He’s quite relatable, and faces issues throughout the book that will allow readers to sympathize with him.
With all of the different characters, and all of the different stories, each one impacts readers in a different way. It’s a perfect book in my eyes, and it holds a special place in my heart.
Profile Image for Jamie Tuggle.
21 reviews4 followers
August 25, 2017
Sometimes We Tell the Truth is a book I was introduced to during a college-level Chaucer class, but never got the chance to really read through it. As I am introducing Chaucer to my high schoolers, I found myself remembering how fun & engaging this book seemed and that it would be worth revisiting. Sometimes We Tell the Truth is a great rendition of the classic Canterbury Tales that has humor (although we can't deny Chaucer didn't have humor) & a playful writing style to keep readers engaged. Zarins does an excellent job putting a modern spin on a literary classic.
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