The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konisberg

The Porcupine of Truth is a fairly humorous book with a serious undertone. I really am enjoying this book so far, partly because of the dynamic, relatable characters. Carson, for one, is a characters whose flaws and good parts are highlighted. Throughout the first quarter so far, a reliable trait he has been shown to have is the ability to misunderstand situations quite a lot. One of the first times we see this is at the Billings Zoo, where after meeting Aisha for the first time, instantly assumes she is a zoo employee. He pays her money to take him on a tour, even though her tour is made up of just implausible, yet hilarious, facts. He tends to blindly believe what others tell him, which shows up again when he is on the ‘date’ with Aisha. He instantly assumes that because they are having coffee together, they are on a date and that Aisha is into him. However, Aisha is a lesbian, and although she was kind of pretending to like him, Carson assumed a little too much. I am interested to see if this will continue to be a present theme of the book, and how that will impact Carson’s strained relationship with his mother and his father.

Another character trait that both Aisha and Carson share is their use of humor as a shield. One of the very first things that Aisha says to Carson is that at the zoo, the snow leopard got kicked out of his house for being gay, and which we later find out is the case for Aisha. She has to deal with a lot, knowing that her father didn’t care enough about her to let her stay, and with homelessness. Using humor seems to be a way to help her cope with that. It was probably another thing that brought her and Carson together. Carson has to deal with his estranged dad who is now dying, and his strained relationship with his mother, and with the possibility that his grandfather might be alive. Carson makes a lot of jokes and would rather improvise something funny then talk about the things that are going on in his life right now. Aisha and Carson can both see a little bit of themselves in each other, which I think is one of the reasons they became close so quickly; they both really ‘get’ each other. Overall, I think the first quarter of the book is really intriguing so far and I am excited to see how the characters and plot develop.

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16 responses to “The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konisberg

  1. jamiekoj

    I agree with you on all of this. The first quarter of the book has definitely focused on setting the plot and characterization. Another interesting part of Aisha and Carson’s relationship is the dynamic between them with Aisha facing a world of discrimination against her, being a gay woman of color, while Carson experiences the privilege of being a straight white male. He is ignorant in many ways about the differences between him and Aisha, as it would seem he hasn’t met many people like her, but he recognizes his privilege and conscientiously tries to improve his understanding so he can be a better friend to her. Another element to the book is, as you mentioned, the strained relationship between Carson and his parents. Unlike many teenagers, he mostly gets along well with his mother, as she gives him a large amount of independence. However, he feels emotionally neglected. This combined with a lack of a father leaves Carson feeling practically parent-less. This could also be a reason he and Aisha click so well, seeing as Aisha has suddenly found herself in a parent-less situation as well.

    • nikimonsef

      I never really realized just how many situations Carson misinterpreted. He seems to readily believe many things and make assumptions when it comes to Aisha, but he appears to be much more critical about other people. One of my favorite moments of blind acceptance is when he is shocked to learn his tour was complete BS. When she reveals to him that she doesn’t even work at the zoo, he honestly inquires “You made all that sh*t up? The wolf detective?”(8) I wonder why his views become more open around a new person, maybe he is just relieved to be away from his suffocating mother? He appears to have simply made up his mind about the people that he already knows. We can especially see this when he talks about religion and his family. Right off the bat, we can see how he dislikes his mother. She is seen as cold and mechanical when it comes to raising Carson. Only on the second page of the book, we get some of his “teenage sass” when he tells the reader that “My mom is down with the kids and how they all just want to stare at monkeys all day”(2).
      One view that Aisha and Carson share is their negative standpoint on religion. Their beliefs stem from different origins, Aisha’s father kicking her out because of “the jesus” and Carson just never being religious in the first place, but their attitudes are the same. During the “tour” of the zoo, Aisha reveals that the lonely tiger in the zoo was kicked out by his religious father. To that, Carson responds with “Ah yes. The Jesus … He’s kind of a judgemental prick, isn’t he”(9). They both harbor a deep mistrust and dislike of religion. It certainly is plain to see that Konigsberg has a lot to say on the matter of religion through this story. In the rest of the book, will this come between them? Will they deviate from these beliefs? Will they become more rooted in their ways? I look forward to seeing more of this.

    • Natalie Lloyd

      Ok, second quarter of the book! Just so everyone’s on the same page, I’m writing about Chapter 17-28. Like Niki was saying, religion is definitely a major theme throughout the book, especially as we get into the second quarter of the book. Something I found really interesting was the contrast of Aisha and Carson’s experiences with Thomas and Laurelei and their experiences in Salt Lake City, and how religion played a role in that. When Aisha and Carson stay with Thomas and Laurelei, they get to experience their lifestyle, which is ultimately a very simple, but happy life. Thomas and Laurelei’s belief system isn’t traditionally religious, but more spiritual. Carson still feels uncomfortable whenever religion is brought up. I wonder if his distaste of anything to do with religion or God is due to the fact that he feels like the world has not been kind to him so far, and his low self-esteem. Maybe he feels as though things like his dad leaving, his mom being cold towards him, the fact that his dad is dying, and even his self-hatred makes him feel as though if there really was a God, then God would have fixed all those problems. I think Aisha feels similarly, as she has been kicked out of her house by people who claimed it was because she was an abomination to God. It is probably hard for them to feel comfortable with religion, as they feel like it has not been protecting them. Aisha has even more struggles then Carson, as she is continuously discriminated against in the name of God. When they get to Salt Lake City, they are turned away at the doorstep of the Clancys just because she is a black lesbian, and it is against their religion to even interact with her. After being told again and again that she is a sinner for being gay, it is understandable that Aisha struggles with organized religion. Additionally, Aisha feels extremely out-of-place in the Mormon house they are staying at. Even though the Bailey’s aren’t overtly rude and prejudiced, knowing that they don’t accept you is difficult to deal with. All of Aisha’s experiences with organized religion has been negative towards her identity, but Aisha is different from Carson in that she still enjoys doing things like meditating, and hasn’t completely discounted the possibility of a God. Overall, I think that both of the two main characters are still figuring out what their religious or lack of religious beliefs are, but that neither of them are a fan of organized religion.

      • Natalie Lloyd

        Wait, was I supposed to make a new post instead of just commenting? whooops nevermind I think that it’s alright

  2. nikimonsef

    My quartering system went 1-11, 12-23, 24-32, 33-41 with roughly 84 ish pages between them.
    Quarter 2
    Like Natalie was saying about Carson’s ideas about religion, they probably stem from his idea of “God’s responsibility.” The idea that if a God were to exist, none of the bad things happening should happen. In chapter 21, Carson is contemplating the nature of God (if they were to exist) when he concludes that “…God smites things every day, every second. This all-loving thing you’re supposed to pray to, who loves you and provides for you. He’s a killer. He’s all-powerful, and terrible stuff just happens, over and over and over again, and God doesn’t stop it”(146-147). He clearly thinks that the idea of and all-powerful while benevolent God is complete BS because no good person would let tragedy devastate entire populations if they could do anything if they could prevent it. A being that can supposedly do miracles and cure cancer allows billions of people to live and endure the fire and brimstone when they could end it with a thought. That sure sounds like someone we should pray to. But back on topic, Carsons disbelief stems from what God hasn’t done as opposed to what some say God has done. Carsons reasoning as a cis-het white guy is much more based on ideas than tangible events, as Aisha’s atheism stems from. She has firsthand seen the “love of God” from religious people close to her who hurt her in the name of God. She is a victim of religion. I would love to talk more about that, but this section was more focused on Carson. I believe the next section will focus more on her, right?
    P.S. Carson would probably love this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6Gq-tdAF_c

    • nikimonsef

      Looking back, I realize that sounds very harsh on religion. I apologize if I offended anyone. I have nothing against religious people. I respect your beliefs. I personally don’t believe in a higher power but I am open to discussion of ideas on the matter.

  3. jamiekoj

    I agree on all of your thoughts here! Going with Niki’s quartering, The second quarter of the book is definitely very concentrated on religion, especially Carson’s view of religion. What I find interesting is that Carson and Aisha have both done their best to avoid religion in the past, but now they have no choice but to think about it as they are staying with religious people. For Aisha, as Natalie touched on, her problem with religion is not religion as a concept (although she is atheist), but the horrible things people do in the name of God. Speaking with Lorelei and Thomas, who as Natalie said, were more spiritual believing mainly in love and letting God be whatever you need him to be, Aisha is able to see another side of religion and let go of the some of the grudges she had been holding without realizing. It’s not that she has forgiven people for doing terrible things, but rather that she’s forgiven them for believing in a god. Carson, on the other hand, has been laughing away and bottling up his emotional issues, and religion is something that brings back these feelings. As Niki mentioned, he figures if there is a God, he wouldn’t allow such bad things to happen to Carson’s family. Yet, in order to follow this train of thought, he has to accept that bad things have happened to his family. By being confronted by the idea of a God, he is forced to revisit old memories and deeply buried feelings, which is incredibly difficult for him, but good for him in the long run. He and Aisha are able to have a serious discussion, and they agree that they are wounded and they are going to help each other heal.

  4. jamiekoj

    In the third quarter of the book (Niki’s quartering), it definitely feels like we’re approaching a resolution. Carson and Aisha are confronted with several issues they have to work through. Carson’s mom is reaching her limit, ordering them to come home after the credit card gets rejected, but Carson knows they have to keep going. They end up staying with a Mormon family, which is very difficult for Aisha. They do not view themselves as homophobic as they do not agree with all the church’s views, but their opinions are still very damaging to Aisha. They are the kind of people who view homosexuality as a choice and a sin, but still respect people who ‘choose that lifestyle.’ Aisha cannot help but confront them over it, and when she and Carson talk about it, she explains that the place is ‘melting’ her like Lorelei and Thomas melted Carson. The reason that Aisha is so upset by the situation is because they remind her of her father- they are good, caring people but consider it a sin for her to exist, and her father, “decided it was better for [her] to sleep out in the f****** rain than to love [her] as [she] was” (Konigsberg 189). Just like Lorelei and Thomas dug up old wounds for Carson, The Bailys dug up old wounds for Aisha. Following that, Carson has an encounter with alcohol. He goes out with the son of the Mormon family and his friends and decides it couldn’t hurt to have some beer and he enjoyed it. Aisha is of course furious with him for being foolish enough to drink knowing that his father and grandfather were alcoholics. Carson realizes this and apologies to Aisha, and she forgives him. He explains in his own words that he had never gotten the chance to hang out with the ”sup dude’ crowd, and it was kind of nice to feel like he had a group of unconditional friends. Aisha replies simply by putting a hand on his shoulder and saying, ”sup dude?’ and it feels as though they are resolving that they may not have everything, but they have each other and that’s enough. The final move towards resolution was with Carson having an emotional phone call with his dad, promising he will come back and his dad promising to wait for him and Aisha sending a text to her dad pleading with him to call her so that they can work things out. Earlier in the quarter, Aisha says to Carson that they are walking wounded. At they end of the chapter, she says to him that they are walking wounded no more. They still need to find Carson’s grandfather and make amends with his mother, and Aisha is yet to hear back from her father. I’m very interested to see how this books ends. I foresee a happy ending.

  5. nikimonsef

    To expand on what Jamie said about Aisha and Carson, there’s a great quote that I believe perfectly sums up their views on religion. Aisha tells Carson that “Wyoming melted you, and Utah is melting me”(188). Aisha’s opposition to organized religion is characterized in her conflict with the mormon Bailey family. Carsons conflict with the very idea of God is characterized in the spiritual, not religious, nature of Thomas and Laurelei. Staying with the Bailey family is reopening not so old wounds for Aisha. They’re just like her family. They’re happy, nice, loving and yet religious. They accept what the church says as true when they say that being gay is a choice and a terrible sin. That’s exactly what Aisha’s dad saw as true. He wanted to send her to conversion therapy and “‘The religion thing, that made it easy for him not to deal with it'”(189). Her problem isn’t the religion, “‘It’s the hypocrisy. They preach love, but they’re selling fear”(189).

    • Natalie Lloyd

      I agree with Jamie that things seem to be wrapping up, but that there are still some new conflicts arising. I think a really interesting par that I’ve been thinking about is Carson’s and Aisha’s relationship with their parents. They both seem to be making some progress and find closure. Aisha’s text message that she sends to her dad illustrating her frustration with his behavior shows that she is recovering from his betrayal a little bit. She is at a place where she does feel comfortable and safe enough to express her feelings at him kicking her out of the house. She clearly outlays the things he had done that have absolutely wounded her, and why she feels so upset. In doing this, it may be the spark for a conversation between the two of them. And even if there is no change between their relationship, at least Aisha doesn’t feel like she owes her father anything. Carson also is making progress with his dad. His dad calls him while he is very drunk and sobbing, which is a difficult experience for the both of them. Carson has to face up to feelings he has been downplaying, about the fact that he really does want to have a father figure in his life. For the first time, they both tell each other that they love each other. However, there is still some undercurrents of distress. Carson’s dad is close to dying, and no matter what happens between the two of them, they aren’t going to get a perfect, happy ending. I think that a definite theme in this book is the importance of family, but also that family is not necessarily defined by blood. Aisha and Carson have become so close to each other, that they are becoming a part of each other’s life that can’t just be defined by friendship. The book definitely demonstrates that people can’t just function by themselves. Carson has always felt lost with a cold mother figure and absent father figure, and Aisha literally is on her own. Additionally, Carson’s dad also has shown that he has struggles, even turning to alcoholism without his father in his life. Altogether, the third quarter has seemed to give hope for a good resolution with fractured families maybe starting to heal.

  6. jamiekoj

    The conclusion of the book was very well done, tying up all the loose ends and leaving the leader with a solid message about life not always turning out the way you expect it, but that isn’t necessarily bad. Carson and Aisha have a bit of an argument when Aisha wants to spend some time with a local gay community and Carson gets jealous. He goes off and finds the man who may know his grandfather on his own. In doing this, he finds out his grandfather was gay and died of aids, and that this man was his lover. When Aisha returns to them, the man, Turk Braverman, insists on Aisha and Carson working things out. After their discussion, Carson realizes that for the whole trip, he had been acting like Aisha was his ‘sidekick,’ and hadn’t thought about how she had her own life too. He, Aisha, and Turk Braverman return to meet Carson’s parents, where Turk is able to explain about Carson’s grandfather to Carson’s dad. Additionally, Carson gathers the courage to tell his mom, while he appreciates what she’s trying to do with her words, he’s rather have a hug. His relation with his mom isn’t perfect, but she’s trying her best and they’re getting there. Aisha makes a final attempt to get her dad to accept her, but, with tears in his eyes, he turns her away. Aisha comes to stay with Carson and his family. All the old wounds have been treated and Carson, Aisha, and others can begin to heal.

  7. nikimonsef

    First of all let me just say, WHAT!? So apparently Carson’s grandpa, Russell, is gay and he came out to his wife and then moved to San Francisco to find love and then he found it and then got AIDs and now he’s dead. You know that moment when a book has a lot of build up and then drops the ball when it comes to the actual ending? This book just did the exact opposite. Through our discussions of the book, we have silently agreed that Religion is an important theme of the book. From what I can see, Carson and Aisha have both begun to accept religion and spirituality. Not that they suddenly believe in a god or something. Meeting Turk, Russell’s lover, appears to be a crucial step in their journey to being at peace with their views on religion. For Aisha, her journey started when she met Thomas and Laurelei and they showed her spirituality without religion. In that experience, Aisha was able to begin to see that not all who worship god are violent and extreme in their belief. Turk was able to further that belief by simply being a gay man following a religion. For Carson, his started with Thomas and Laurelei as well, but for him they showed that god doesn’t matter, the people following do. Laurelei tells Carson that god can mean anything to anyone, so long as they add two simple words to the end, “For me.” When Carson meets Turk, he goes to a church that follows “the one true god” but is completely at odds with any other religion he had encountered. Carson and Aisha both had a lot of personal growth over the course of the book.

    • Natalie Lloyd

      I agree with Niki about the satisfying ending, and also that religion has been a major part of the book. Several different experiences and types of religion have been shown, at last climaxing when they go to Turk’s church which is run “by and for LGBT people”, which is a definite plus for Aisha. I agree that they have seemed to come more at peace with the idea of religion and spirituality. I think another major part of the last quarter of the book is the making and repairing of relationships. Aisha’s and Carson’s relationship went through another major hurdle, the volleyball game that ultimately climaxed in a good discussion about being the sidekick’s in each other’s life. And many other relationships are repaired, all through or influenced by Turk. A major plot point of this book has been Carson’s search for his grandfather, and although he doesn’t find exactly what he was looking for, he does find Turk. And Turk helps him start to forge a new relationship with his father. Being able to bring Turk back home is a lot of conversation starters, and Carson and his father seem to reach a new understanding of each other. Carson also starts a new relationship with his mother; his road trip and ignoring of her boundaries starts a conversation about his mother’s coldness towards them. I feel like all these relationships contribute to the theme of family, and also to a theme of change. There are many parts throughout the book that seem to contribute to the idea that nothing is stagnate and that change is an inevitable part of life. I think these new relationships definitely contribute to the importance of change. Overall, I really loved the ending of this book

      • Natalie Lloyd

        Final Rating:9/10
        I really, really liked this book. This book may be entering onto my list of “Favorite books” because it was just great. A brief summary of the book: A teenage boy named Carson, after going back to his old hometown and reconciling with his estranged dad, goes on a roadtrip to find his grandfather, who is missing, with his new best friend named Aisha who is a lesbian that got kicked out of her house. Some particularly interesting attribute of the book, that I personally enjoyed, was the way that Konnisberg took already existing tropes but then flipped them. The idea of a straight guy falling for a gay girl is one that is expressed a lot in YA fiction. But instead of having Aisha turn straight and go out with Carson, she continues to be a lesbian and Carson doesn’t lust after her even though he knows she’s not into him. I really appreciated this, considering that trope is extremely problematic and harmful. Another trope that was changed was the idea that the gay character is always the sidekick. In a lot of YA books, LGBTQ characters are included but almost as just an afterthought, and they are sometimes treated like the sidekick of their own story. The Porcupine of Truth instead addresses that point in a really meaningful conversation about being the sidekick in other people’s lives. Another thing that I quite enjoyed was the writing style. It was just very realistic for what teenages sound like. There were a few times when Carson and Aisha had very deep conversations about life, but there were other times that they just laughed and made puns, which very accurately captured the voice of a teenager. It was told very matter-of-factly, which was a good fit for the story. Overall, this book was a fantastic, with realistic portrayls of LGBTQ characters and a mix of profound and humorous moments. I would recommend this book to people who like books with LGBTQ characters, enjoy books mainly focused on characters and character development, and anyone who just likes a good book about a road trip.

  8. nikimonsef

    Final rating for ‘The Porcupine of Truth’ by Bill Konigsberg: 8.5-9/10
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book from cover to cover and have read it again, both for analyzing the many profound and meaningful quotes as well as reliving the adventures of two beautifully written, witty, lovable main characters. The book starts with Carson being forced to go with his mother to Billings, Montana to take care of his dying alcoholic father. He spends his first day in Billings at a nearly empty Zoo where he meets Aisha. Aisha is a beautiful african american girl who looks to be the stereotypical love interest in any type of book. She takes Carson on a “tour” of the zoo (she doesn’t work there) and reveals that she lives at the zoo after being kicked out of her home for coming out as a lesbian. Carson invites her to go and stay with him for the time being, and she takes up his offer. During her stay with him, they find boxes of old letters from Cason’s grandfather to his father. Aisha and Carson decide to go on a road trip to find his grandfather and reunite the long separated father and son. On said road trip they discover things about themselves and others that change them. This book offers a new fresh perspective of religion so rarely seen in YA novels. Both Aisha and Carson dislike religion and the idea of God, and they explore what they truly mean over the course of the book. Many books with LGBT characters either capitalize on such characters or ignore them completely, Konigsberg did neither. Aisha was a well written and dynamic character, and while she was a lesbian, that isn’t all she was. Two thumbs up to Konigsberg for realistic, individual character that was never defined by a single role. Bill Konigsberg’s writing style is funny, smart, and snarky. This novel had unexpected heart, actual depth, and some of the best dialogue you’ll read in a YA novel. I would recommend this book to anyone, but specifically those interested in LGBT media, atheist/agnostic ideas, growing dynamic characters, humorous themes and good literature different from what is perceived as YA. (Konigsberg has also written ‘Out of the Pocket’ and ‘Openly Straight.’ I have not read ‘Out of the Pocket’ personally, but I highly recommend ‘Openly Straight’ to people looking for LGBT stories.)

  9. jamiekoj

    My final rating for the book is 8.5/10. It reads like the average YA novel at first- witty, misunderstood, straight white teenager feels out of place in life, and then it begins to cover more serious problems that are rarely discussed in young literature. Carson, the narrator and main character, has moved with is mom to take care of his dying, alcoholic father. His mom, who Carson wishes would be more caring rather than analysing, drops him off at the zoo for a day. There, he meets the beautiful Aisha, who turns out to be a lesbian who as been kicked out of her home by her family. With Aisha, Carson begins to dig up information about his missing grandfather, and together they go on a roadtrip to find him. Along the way, they are both forced to revisit old, personal wounds opened up, oddly enough, by the concept of religion, as well as confront their parents with how they feel. Carson also expands his mind when he realizes the ways he has been unfair to Aisha- treating her like a sidekick. Despite covering heavy topics such as alcoholism, homophobia, racism, and family issues, the book manages to keep the light, quick, generally humorous tone characteristic of young adult novels. The combination of the main characters Aisha and Carson’s sense of humor, the adventure of their road trip, and the quickly progressing plot makes the book difficult to put down. The complexity of Aisha’s character, a dark skinned lesbian’s character, is refreshing, as while these attributes are strongly tied in her character and development, she is never reduced to a stereotype. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking to enjoy a YA novel with meaning to it.

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