Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on April 28th, 2015
Genres: contemporary, young adult
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A girl takes over her twin sister's identity in this emotionally charged page-turner about the complicated bond between sisters.
Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy's shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she's chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy's world.
When—after a heated argument—Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy's death and everyone's grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy's life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options—confess her deception or live her sister's life.
To say this book was a disappointment would be the understatement of the century. I expected a lot from this – I love the idea of a thriller based around one twin taking on the identity of her sister. But instead, I got a lot of angst, casual misogyny, and the least interesting big reveal/climax basically ever.
To its credit, The Secrets We Keep was quite fast-paced. Even though not much was happening with regards to plot, the pages just flew by. For someone who’s been in a reading slump for quite a while, it’s a lot to say that I read this book in a day. Ella’s voice was engaging, and of course, I wanted to know how everyone would react when the truth came out. The “mystery” was just enough to keep me reading. I mean, I guessed early on what happened (and I believe you will, too) but that didn’t stop me from reading because I truly believed it’d be juicy. But honestly, the quick pacing and the engaging voice were the only things that kept me moving, truly, because most of the rest of this book was lackluster at best.
Ella is an asshole. She’s one of those people who stick to the sidelines, staying guarded and not letting anyone in. Which is totally fine, and I’m okay with reading that kind of character generally. But she was also the kind of person who looked down upon the people who did choose to get involved with their peers, who took their classmates’ interactions seriously. She was constantly judging everyone, most especially her dead twin sister. Maddy is a stereotypical mean girl who never really gets to defend herself against those accusations because she dies early in the book. However, Maddy was also the only one who called Ella on her shit (which only happens once, and it’s not nearly as satisfying as it sounds.) I just can’t stand this type of character that Ella embodies – the judgmental, better-than-you attitude, while insisting you are not jealous, but you clearly are. It’s not my thing, I don’t like it.
The way Ella talked about her sister, especially early on (even after death) really bugged me. There were a few lines that stuck out more than others. For instance. “Nobody messed with anything that belonged to Alex Furey. And my sister definitely belonged to him.” Of course, this casual grossness wasn’t reserved for just Ella’s inner monologues. It was all over the place: Alex pressuring Ella (who was pretending to be Maddy) into having sex with him just a couple weeks after the crash that killed her sister and left her with various physical injuries. Or Jenna, Maddy’s “friend” who cornered Ella/Maddy to tell her that Alex wouldn’t stick around if Maddy didn’t have sex with him soon. It was this disgusting view on young women and sex, along with Ella’s constant body/beauty/sex shaming of nearly every girl around her that left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Now, given all these things, I probably could have looked past them enough to enjoy the basic plot if it had been interesting. But it wasn’t. We’re promised a house of cards style mystery, where one wrong breath and it all comes tumbling down, but what we really got was petty jealousy and some angst. A few instances of bullying that are mostly glossed over and ultimately forgiven without any real remorse or apology from the perpetrators. I honestly cannot believe how mundane the Big Bag Thing was. Snooze. The way the characters were acting made it seem like something much bigger than it was. I mean, what they did was heinous and really, really fucked up, but it wasn’t interesting.
Finally, the romance. The romance that was completely unnecessary and felt tacked on. I didn’t for one second believe these characters actually had feelings for one another. There was no indication of it until well past the 200 page mark. What really upset me was that the feelings of the love interest were put before the feelings of Ella’s PARENTS. The boy’s grief was worse than the grief of these parents who lost a child? Unbelievable. Once again, a boy is put before all, and they don’t even have chemistry! And let’s not even talk about the fact that he has a girlfriend for the entirety of the book, including when Ella and he get together!
I’m not sure who I’d recommend this one too. There are better thrillers out there than The Secrets We Keep – in fact, I hesitate to even call this a thriller. I can think of a handful of books that have better mysteries surrounding identical twins. If you have it on hand, I’d encourage you to read it if you were stuck in a slump. It is fast paced and easy to read (though the dialogue was wayy over the top sometimes.) Ultimately, though, if you’re looking for an edge of your seat thriller, or even a contemporary dealing with grief and loose ends after a tragic loss, I’d look elsewhere.