Sometimes a book crosses our path at the wrong time. It might be brilliant but for whatever reason the timing is off and the book falls flat or simply fails to resonate. Having discovered this a long time ago, I now know the importance of leaving such a book alone for a while, and returning to it at a later date. I call this my ‘second chance pile’. I mention this now, because this is what happened to me with this book. In doing so, it served to remind me of the power of stories to draw out potent reactions in readers that are not always positive because of the manner with which they evoke an emotional response.
12 year-old Clem Timmins has lost everything; her mother, her home, her friends and all her worldly possessions. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, The Secrets We Keep is a story about loss. There are not a lot of rainbows and unicorns in this story, a fact that would normally be a good thing for me. However, when this book arrived (quite literally on my doorstep), I was grieving the death of my grandmother. Looking back, I’m not surprised that the book fell flat. A story that ached so loudly about the pain of loss was not really what I needed at that moment in time. However, I’m glad that I did recognise this and shelve it for a bit, because once I returned to it I was gifted by a story that is beautifully crafted and definitely worthy of merit.
The Secrets We Keep will hold tremendous appeal for younger YA readers especially those transitioning from children’s fiction. Written in a straightforward and accessible style, the story investigates the messy stuff of parent-child relationships and touches with sensitivity on the impact of depression on families. While I don’t think Weetman’s approach is necessarily confronting, I do believe that her target audience will appreciate her frankness and will recognise that this is a rather grown-up novel (especially when compare to other novels targeted at this age group). The sensitive content in this story would deter me (or prompt me to exercise caution) from teaching this text with a large group. It is worthwhile to note that some boys may struggle to identify with the female protagonist. That said, it would be a great choice to use in smaller groups, reading circles, or as a novel designed to transition students onto more mature books.
The Secrets We Keep reflects everything I love about Contemporary YA. This is the kind of story that not only do young people want to hear, but it is the kind of story that they need to hear.