Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters
Published by Little, Brown and Company on May 4 2005
Genres: contemporary, young adult, LGBT
With a steady boyfriend, the position of Student Council President, and a chance to go to an Ivy League college, high school life is just fine for Holland Jaeger. At least it seems to be. But when Cece Goddard comes to school, everything changes. Cece and Holland have undeniable feelings for each other, but how will others react to their developing relationship? This moving love story between two girls is a worthy successor to Nancy Garden's classic young adult coming out novel, Annie on My Mind. With her characteristic humor and breezy style, Peters has captured the compelling emotions of young love.
As you may or may not have noticed, I read pretty much any and every lesbian YA novel that comes my way. Because I can. This one has been on my radar for years – I mean, Julie Anne Peters is a mainstay of queer YA contemporaries, and this is one of her more popular books. Possibly the most popular? I’m not too sure. Regardless, there is a distinctly familiar tone to this book that leads me to think that I may have read it in high school and completely forgotten doing so. It happens.
Keeping You a Secret isn’t the most creative book in the world, but it is an important book nonetheless. Given that it was published nearly ten years ago, I’m pretty impressed with it. I can’t say that I’d be pleased to read something with this plot if it were a new release, but I’ll get into that in a moment.
The main draw of Keeping You a Secret, in my opinion, is the relationships between its characters. To start out, we have the main character, Holland. Holland has a lot of very complicated relationships – her boyfriend, who feels more like an obligation than a pleasure; her friends, who are sometimes judgemental and with whom Holland doesn’t feel comfortable sharing her true feelings; her mom, newly remarried and suddenly preoccupied with a ‘new’ family; her stepsister, a Goth whom Holland just can’t relate to (not that she really wants to). What I really loved about this book was that it went beyond the conventions of a simple love story – while the blooming love between Holland and Cece takes center stage, there is much more going on in Holland’s life. She is constantly navigating how to manage her relationships without throwing things off balance.
Holland’s relationship with her mother is one of the best and hardest parts of this book. After a lot of sneaking around with Cece and trying to keep the lid on their relationship, Holland’s mother finds out in a not-so-ideal way. Her reaction is absolutely terrifying. Holland’s mom has the reaction that every gay child has nightmares about. It isn’t unexpected – upon meeting Cece for the first time, she demands that Holland stop being friends with her. Her homophobia isn’t well hidden, but it is still shocking to see how she treats her own daughter. Just thinking about it makes my eyes well up. I don’t want to give away the details, but Holland’s life is plunged into a low that most people cannot relate to. The sad truth is that Holland’s circumstances are all too common for LGBT youth with bigoted parents.
The issue I have with Keeping You a Secret is that it is very middle-of-the-road. I’ve read books worse, but I’ve also read many books that are much, much better. The writing is mediocre and simplistic, which is good for readability but bad for memorability. I was never completely immersed in the story, mostly due to the fact that it was very formulaic and clichéd in many ways. I also found Cece to be a rather two-dimensional love interest, which was off-putting and disappointing. As I said before, I think that this is a very important book, but there are better LGBT YA books out there (Malinda Lo’s books are marvellous, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth is wonderful, I’ve heard very great things about Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour, even Peters’ newest release Lies My Girlfriend Told Me sounds more innovative).
If like me you’re someone who devours every book about queer teenage girls that you can find, this one is worth reading, but if you’re less passionate about the subject, this might be one to skip.