I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a house burn, but it’s not like anything else …
Clem Timmins has lost it all – her house, possessions and clothes. Now living in a tiny flat with her dad, she has to go to a new school far from what she knows.
On her first day, Clem meets Ellie. To fit in, Clem reveals a secret and immediately regrets sharing too much with her new friend.
How can Clem face everything in her life when all she wants to do is run away?
I enjoyed the beautifully spooky The Haunting of Lily Frost and I loved Frankie and Joely, a lovely contemporary YA exploring female friendship, even more. So I was excited to find out about the release of Nova Weetman's latest novel, The Secrets We Keep. (Nova Weetman is unbelievably prolific. How do people manage a book a year?)
Emily Gale (author of the wonderful Steal My Sunshine) described The Secrets We Keep on Twitter as baby-YA. Which I think is my new favourite label for the reading age bracket known as Middle Grade (which doesn't really mean anything here in Australia, I don't think). It's for 10-14-year-old readers. It's the category of books I most fervently loved as a kid (back when I loved monstrously huge series like The Saddle Club), and I still find really enjoyable and comforting now. (I just read - and loved - Leanne Hall's Iris and the Tiger, a more fantastic story for the same age group.)
Even though it's written for younger readers, The Secrets We Keep tackles some really tricky themes: mental illness, loss, death, grief. It's tactful, it's authentic, it's immensely readable, and something I think would definitely appeal to older primary school kids who like real-world stories. Clementine is endearing, despite her mistakes, and even though a whole lot of difficult, traumatising things happen in her life, the story is ultimately uplifting. The timing of events seems coincidental* but the emotional authenticity of the novel meant this hardly mattered.
The complicated social dynamics reminded me of the difficult friendships between characters in Kate Gordon's Writing Clementine. (I forgot that novel was called Writing Clementine then searched up the name of it... only to remember that Clem was the name of the central character in that novel, too - which might be why I thought of it. Mental illness in the family is another theme that also pops up in Writing Clementine, and is delicately and thoughtfully handled in both novels.) The depiction of being new to a primary school and finding your place when friendship groups seem to already be set in stone is perfect (and agonising). I felt like I was eleven-years-old again.
I'm looking forward to Nova Weetman's next novel, regardless of what she writes next, but I'm certainly hoping for another baby-YA.
The Secrets We Keep on the publisher's website.
* [spoiler] That Clem would confide in Ellie about the death of her mother mere days before the death of Ellie's own mother is slightly too convenient. [end spoiler]