Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book Review: Julie Anne Peters' "Keeping You A Secret"

Seventeen-year-old Holland Jaeger knows what will happen. She will get into one of the great colleges her mother has picked out, marry her boyfriend, Seth (who isn't so bad), and become a lawyer because that makes the most sense. But then Holland meets Cece Goddard, a queer transfer student and LGBT rights activist. Suddenly, Holland isn't sure of anything. Little does Holland know that her mother's suppressed homophobia and Cece's complicated past might transform everything. And does anyone really know what they want anyway? Among coming-of-age tales and the undergrad applications process, Julie Anne Peters' Keeping You A Secret also dives deep into the powerful consequences of bullying and dishonesty.

Structure: 4 out of 5 stars

The story follows Holland's senior year at Southglenn High School, from her introduction to art class and Cece to her relationships with her stepsister, boyfriend, and "friends," many of whom turn on her. The author maintains a constant momentum, with a straightforward plot and short chapters. While the story doesn't abound in too many twists and surprises, the few life-changing moments are potent, palpable, and heartfelt.

One of the strongest parts of Peters' novel was the way she showcased other minorities at Southglenn - the Goths, the punks, the performers. She even drew a nice parallel to Mrs. Jaegar's past. Instead of featuring a simple coming out story, the author presents the difficulties of acceptance through all types of teenage experiences.

Character: 4 out of 5 stars

Holland is fierce, sassy, and incredibly brave. She has spent her life shoved into the "model teenager" mold by her mother, her school counselor, and her boyfriend. Once she realizes the things she does want, Holland experiences an amazing shift. The same goes for Cece. As a character who appears fearless, she certainly has her fair share of skeletons in the closet (pun intended). Some of the outside characters confused me at times, however. Every so often, I felt unsettled by Holland's mom or Ms. Lucas, the school counselor. The two ladies would change personalities quite abruptly at various moments throughout the story, which sometimes felt in character and sometimes didn't. This was balanced out with the multitude of other secondary characters like Faith (Holland's Goth stepsister), Winslow (the orange-haired artist), and Leah (her nostalgic best friend), all of whom offer great support during Holland's journey and cause their own trouble along the way.

Voice: 4 out of 5 stars

The reader gets to see, hear, and feel Holland's story throughout the novel. As a seventeen-year-old, Holland has been given an immense amount of responsibility, and her narrative voice offers a maturity far beyond her years. I would have liked to see just a little more. While the author writes about Holland's gamut of emotions, there are some moments I would have loved to see fleshed out a bit further, like when Holland breaks her news to Seth, when Holland chooses a college, or even when Holland and Cece exchange their first "I love you." Her narrative voice is spot-on for her character - I just want to know more about her reactions. Overall, a great female protagonist.

Keeping You A Secret was first published in 2003 by Little, Brown and Company. The novel has received countless awards since its release, including the first ever Alphabet Award and a 2004 nomination for the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults.

The learn more about other Julie Anne Peters books, check out her website.

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