Hi everyone! I hope September is treating you well so far! I’m just trundling along, mostly reading and studying Chinese and Pharmacology (strange combination, I know), just trying to put still being in lockdown time to use! I recently read The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown and absolutely adored it, and I knew, straight away after finishing it, that I wanted to share my thoughts on this wonderful book with you all!
Title: The Truth About Keeping Secrets
Author: Savannah Brown
Genre: Contemporary, Thriller, LGBT+, Young Adult
Rating: 5 Stars – 9.14 CAWPILE rating
Synopsis: Sydney’s dad is the only psychiatrist for miles around their small Ohio town.
He is also unexpectedly dead.
Is Sydney crazy, or is it kind of weird that her dad-a guy whose entire job revolved around other peoples’ secrets-crashed alone, with no explanation?
And why is June Copeland, homecoming queen and the town’s golden child, at his funeral?
As the two girls grow closer in the wake of the accident, it’s clear that not everyone is happy about their new friendship.
But what is picture perfect June still hiding? And does Sydney even want to know?
From the synopsis it seems very clear that this book is meant to be a thriller – it follows Sydney, who just recently lost her dad, and thinks that there might be someone behind his death, rather than the simple car accident that everyone believes it to be. At his funeral, Sydney sees the popular girl, June, standing at the back and can’t help but think that it’s a bit strange that she’s showed up here. What makes things even stranger are the messages from a restricted number threatening her and raising even more questions about her dad’s death. It was only after getting about three quarters of the way through the book that I came to the conclusion that it isn’t, in fact, a thriller at all. At most I’d describe it as a dark contemporary novel. And that is absolutely fine with me! I’m not a thriller reader in general (and not the biggest fan of them regardless), so it was quite a nice surprise. Instead, it focuses more on the characters, their relationships and their emotions.
Which brings me onto the themes of the book. It is quite plain to see that the book deals with death, grief, healing and love. Sydney loses her father right at the start of the book and we can see the toll that that has on her and her mother. The first few chapters or so follow Sydney directly after the funeral, shutting herself away from the world and keeping to herself in her room. We see her taking up some very unhealthy coping mechanisms – looking up videos of people dying on a dodgy website just to feel something – and acting up at school. Sydney’s grief feels like a physical weight on the story, with each word chosen specifically by the author to make that dark, grimy heaviness feel all the more real. We also see Sydney’s relationship with her best friend suffer as a consequence and it’s impossible to not notice how isolated she is becoming.
However, just like a shining ray of sunshine, June enters into Sydney’s life and changes it for the better. June was really one of the highlights of the book for me – in fact the characters in general were. We quickly learn the June was one of Sydney’s father’s therapy patients and that she has been privately dealing with a very tough situation, although we do not find out what. But regardless of this situation, June is an extremely soft, extremely caring person. She’s a people pleaser. She almost takes Sydney under her wing and introduces her to a whole new world. Their friends to lovers romance was so full of mutual yearning, I just couldn’t get enough. There’s a scene where June and Sydney are at a house party and they escape all of the hustle and bustle and drunk football players to just sit on the roof together under a blanket, and their conversations and the palpable tension between them just felt so reminiscent of so many of my experiences at house parties with girls I liked growing up.
Then there’s Leo. Sydney meets Leo at group therapy for teens who are dealing with the loss of a loved one. At first, their relationship is rocky – they seem almost desperate to hate each other. But slowly, they start to open up to one another. Leo believes Sydney at a time when no one else does. Their friendship was truly so heartwarming that it really made me want a Leo in my life too! The scene where they’re dancing together at the school dance to songs they just don’t know and they’re grinning from ear to ear just filled me with so much joy, my heart felt so full!
As for Sydney, she was such a complicated main character. You rooted for her the whole time, even when she was doing some very self destructive things. As someone who’s dad has been very unwell for a large part of their life, some of this book particularly hit home a bit too hard, especially right at the start when Sydney is at her dad’s funeral, and the week or so after. My girlfriend is an aspiring mortician and being the loving girlfriend that I am I have extensively researched this kind of work (it’s honestly super interesting, I highly recommend getting lost in mortician TikTok for a few hours) and so I’m well aware of the proceedings, of the grief, but Savannah Brown’s writing just made it all feel almost too real at times.
Speaking of the author’s writing, it is absolutely one of the most unique things about this book. I have never read a thriller, or supposed thriller, so beautifully written before. I have been a long time follower of Savannah Brown, going back to her Youtube days with her long brown hair and her poetry videos, and you can tell that her love of poetry has also seeped its way into her prose. This book is filled to the brim with lush metaphors and swooping, beautiful descriptions. I’ve already mentioned how she expertly made Sydney’s grief weigh on the novel, but the atmosphere in general just felt so real – the slow easing into Autumn drifting into the biting chill of Winter; the spinning confidence of being drunk at a house party full of almost strangers; the cold alienation of feeling like everyone knows something you don’t. Even more impressive is how she manages to make the dialogue so unbelievably realistic. Often when I am reading a YA novel, the conversations seem stilted, almost as if they were written by an AI robot that has been programmed to mimic teenager’s speech, but sometimes messes up a bit along the way. However, I never once felt this way whilst reading The Truth About Keeping Secrets, everything felt so authentic.
Finally, I’m going to go back to my very first point. I’m so glad that this didn’t read like a thriller and I think that it was all the better for it. This book felt like I was being seen and like the author knew exactly what I wanted from a book and handed it to me on a silver platter. It felt simultaneously like a sharp wake up call and also a long hug from someone who knew what it was like to go through what I’m going through. I wish I could go back and read this book again for the first time, to savour it like my last meal. But since I cannot do that, I guess I’ll have to settle for deeply encouraging you all to pick it up instead!