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Book Review

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Oversized seventh-grader Mason Buttle lives on his family’s neglected apple orchard in a house he calls the crumbledown. After his dad left, Mason and his mother moved in with Grandpa, Grandma and Uncle Drum. Within a short period, Grandpa died, and Mason’s mother was hit by a car and killed.

Grandma stopped baking, and Uncle Drum quit working the orchard. Drum spent most of his time at the diner. He found Shayleen, a young broke woman with the temperament of a spoiled child, and felt sorry for her. So he brought her home. She now lives in Mason’s old room and spends the family’s money buying useless items off of TV shopping shows.

Mason knows Grandma and Uncle Drum have financial troubles, and he fights with Shayleen like she’s a big sister. But he has bigger problems than these. He lost his best friend, Benny Kilmartin, less than two years earlier. The boy fell to his death in the Buttle orchard when a ladder rung broke.

Police Lieutenant Baird still hounds Mason, believing the boy knows more about what happened than he’s saying. He continually urges Mason to write down what he remembers in a notebook. Mason’s dyslexia makes writing difficult, even if he could remember something about the day Benny died. Mason frequently sees fat or misshapen letters floating before his eyes. He also sees colors that reflect the mood around him. Being with Benny was pink. Talking to Lieutenant Baird is ugly green.

Mason’s unassuming personality, simple mind and sweat gland problem, called diaphoresis, make him a target for school bully Matt Drinker and his sidekick, Lance Pierson. Matt’s mom and their dog, Moonie, adore Mason, and Mason often watches the pup when the Drinkers leave town. But Matt and Lance ruthlessly hurt Mason — pelting him with apples and lacrosse balls and finding ways to humiliate him at school.

Mason has something of a haven at the school social work office, or SWOOF, with the artsy, free-spirited Ms. Blinny. She teaches Mason to use a new computer program she calls The Dragon, which allows him to speak into the computer rather than type. Her encouraging personality brings in other misfit children as well, such as Annalissetta Yang, who uses a walking device due to cerebral palsy.

In the SWOOF, Mason meets a mousy new boy named Calvin Chumsky. Unlike Mason, who loves the outdoors, Calvin likes to be inside and frequently searches for information on his tablet. Mason saves Calvin when the bullies attack, and the boys become fast friends. They spend many afternoons together at the crumbledown, avoiding the wrath of Matt and Lance.

One day, Mason and Calvin find a secret door. It leads to an old cellar used by Buttles generations earlier. The boys spend weeks secretly fixing it up. Calvin reads about how to make a light tube that will filter sun into the cellar. They find a large tube and paint leftover from a nearby construction site and make themselves the perfect hideout.

Calvin tells Mason about ancient cave paintings found in France, and the boys add their own cave paintings to the walls. Moonie sometimes joins the boys in their fort to avoid the cruel jerking and jostling of his master, Matt. Mason adores Moonie and can’t bear to watch Matt abuse him.

Lieutenant Baird continues to badger Mason. He’s pleased to see that Mason is using The Dragon to collect his thoughts, but he’s still annoyed the boy hasn’t recalled any information useful for his case. Baird reveals the broken ladder rung from which Benny fell appears to have been cut with a saw. Mason is dismayed to realize Baird and many other townspeople, including Benny’s two fathers, suspect he had something to do with Benny’s death.

The same night, Calvin’s parents call and ask about their son’s whereabouts. Baird and Mason’s family quickly realize Calvin is missing. Searchers find Calvin’s backpack later that night. Mason realizes Calvin must be in the light shaft. He rushes to the cellar and finds the boy stuck there, his legs precariously bent after trying to jump in and escape the bullies. Rescue workers save the injured boy, tearing apart the cellar in the process. Mason visits his recovering friend in the following days while dog-sitting Moonie.

When the Drinkers return from their trip, Matt, some of his friends, and Mrs. Drinker are in the garage with Mason. Mrs. Drinker asks Mason to pull a bag of dog food off the shelf, and Mason catches his hand on an old handsaw that belongs to Matt. Mrs. Drinker starts crying and screaming, and Matt turns white. Officer Baird arrives, and Matt’s friend Cory admits Matt and Lance used Mason’s saw to cut the rung on the ladder that killed Benny.

Mason is relieved that townspeople have stopped blaming him. He has an emotional reunion with one of Benny’s dads, and the downtrodden Mrs. Drinker brings Moonie to live with Mason. Grandma tells Mason and Drum that half of the orchard belongs to each of them and that it’s time to get back to business.

They start taking care of the farm again, Grandma returns to her baking, and Shayleen helps with sales. When Calvin is able to leave the house, he and his parents come to see what’s left of the cellar. They’re able to look at the drawings, and the adults praise the boys for their unique undertaking.

Christian Beliefs

Mason wishes Benny could tell him whether heaven is real.

Other Belief Systems

Calvin sometimes credits the Universe for making things work in their favor. Mason believes bad luck follows him and that he brings it upon others.

Authority Roles

Grandma makes guests like Calvin and Shayleen feel welcome. She urges the family to get back to work on the orchard after their period of mourning. Uncle Drum stops working and hangs out at the diner after his dad and sister die. He blames himself for not picking Mason’s mom up the night she was hit by a car. He quietly but lovingly supports Mason, and he returns to working the orchard in the end.

Ms. Blinny, a positive and free-spirited social worker, encourages Mason and other misfit kids to discover their inner strength and talents. Lieutenant Baird hounds Mason for a confession but doesn’t really listen to Mason. He feels bad when he realizes Mason was doing his best to help with the investigation.

Benny’s dads push Mason away after Benny dies. One tearfully apologizes to Mason after the truth comes out, saying he’s sorry he forgot who Mason was. Mrs. Drinker likes and feels sorry for Mason. She gives him her beloved dog when their family is in crisis because of Matt’s crimes.


The Lord’s name is used in vain a few times. The words d--n, h---, butt, heck and darn appear a few times. Matt and Lance call Mason butthole and buttface frequently. They refer to Calvin as fetus face.


Benny had two dads. The grieving couple, whom Mason always liked, appears infrequently in the story. The text makes it clear that Shayleen and Drum are not in a physical relationship. Drum brought her home out of kindness and a desire to help someone in need.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 14


Leslie Connor






Record Label



Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


On Video

Year Published



National Book Award Finalist, 2018


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