December 12, 2016

The Secrets We Keep

by Deb Loughead
Dundurn
978-1-459737297
184 pp.
Ages 12-15
December 2016

Not all secrets are bad; in fact, The Secrets We Keep ends on a very sweet one.  But the secrets being kept in Deb Loughead's newest young adult novel are the destructive kind, the kind that destroy relationships and souls, the kind that erode slowly the edges of what is good until it becomes a slippery slope with a pit at the bottom.

Ever since that field party at the quarry last June when challenged teen Kit Stitski disappeared and was later found dead, drowned in the water, fifteen-year-old Clementine has been tortured with guilt, convinced that she played a role in his death.
It’s like his ghost will not go away and leave me alone.  And now that I know his mother’s still hunting for answers, my secrets are spooking me even more. (pg. 15) 
Worse than her own guilt, Clem’s supposed best friend, Ellie Denton, who had also been secretly at the quarry, partying with Mac, a boy on whom she’d been crushing, is manipulating Clem with the threat of exposure.  With excessive demands on Clem to always be available to cover for her and Mac, Ellie becomes a menace that Clem can’t seem to shake.  Though Clem wishes she could speak to her family about this, she finds some relief when she convinces her tech-addicted parents and younger brother to agree to put aside their devices regularly for some quality family time, including at night when Ellie regularly texts Clem.

That might get Ellie somewhat off her back but Clem is still plagued by a guilty conscience and a crush on Grade 10 student, Jake Harcourt, with whom she’d once been part of a Circle of Friends support group for Kit in middle school.  When the two finally reconnect as friends who've both taken on blame for Kit’s death and recognized how the circumstances have changed them, Clem and Jake look for ways to be something positive in the lives of Kit’s mother and younger brother, as well as expose a lot more secrets concerning the young man’s death.

Though The Secrets We Keep is not a mystery, there is a problem to be solved and secrets to be exposed and Deb Loughead never lets the reader’s adrenalin levels subside.  The tension that Clem suffers at the hands of her friend drives the story and her to find some resolution, one with which she can live.  And though it is never obvious, Jake, the boy who defends another teen rumoured to have fought with Kit that night, is the means to that resolution, as well as a sweet respite from the strain of keeping secrets and harbouring guilt.  The Secrets We Keep has both the strong plot and character development to hook teen readers but its strong message about connecting and disconnecting, both personally and digitally, makes the story one worth reading and heeding.

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Reviewed just in time, The Secrets We Keep launches this Wednesday, December 14, 2016 at Harbourfront's Lakeside Terrace in Toronto.  Details here.

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