Book Review: The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver

image from goodreads

image from goodreads

This is another one I read because of mixed reviews on my GR feed, so I wanted to decide for myself. Unfortunately, I fear I have to go with the less favorable ones.

This book initially caught my eye because I just love twin stories, and was reminded of 90s classics like Stranger With My Face and Twins. In fact, the premise of The Secrets We Keep is very similar to the latter, although I hadn’t read it in years and don’t recall exact details. I do recall it being really dark, at least to my teenage self.

In TSWK, Ella and Maddy are yet another set of fictional twins who couldn’t be more different:

Maddy was skirts and heels and flatirons, where I was jeans and T-shirts and ponytails. She was Friday-night parties and homecoming dances. I was B-rated horror movies on the couch with microwave popcorn.

“She wears short skirts / I wear t-shirts…”

Maddy calls Ella in tears, asking her to pick her up from a party at Maddy’s boyfriend’s house. Ella does, and we get the sense that Something Terrible has happened but of course Maddy doesn’t want to talk about it, because if she did we wouldn’t spend the whole book trying to figure it out. Ella and Maddy argue on the ride home, it’s raining and hailing, and the car goes off the road and wraps around a tree. Maddy is killed instantly but Ella survives. She wakes up in the hospital with amnesia, but everyone is calling her by Maddy’s name, so she does the logical thing in such a situation and decides to just go with it.

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This is the point when it’s safe to say that further reading requires one’s suspension of disbelief to be deader than… well, Maddy.

Since Ella blames herself for the accident, she rationalizes that adopting Maddy’s identity would allow her sister to “live on” while Ella dies, and it’s for the best since Maddy was the more popular and loved twin. Yeah, I don’t get it, either. But, like Ella, I’m going to just go with it, because otherwise the plot would be more DOA than… well, Maddy.

OK, I’ll stop now.

So Ella just slips into Maddy’s life, and no one—not Maddy’s boyfriend, Maddy’s friends, the twins’ own parents—no one seems to be the wiser. Oh, except for Ella’s dog.

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But the dog can’t talk, so Ella’s secret is safe for now. Having pulled a twin switch covering for Maddy over the years, Ella points how good she’s become at playing her sister. Well, you’d never know it from her performance in this book. I actually spent most of my reading time theorizing that everyone knew or at least suspected a twin switch, but didn’t say anything about it for reasons—their own trauma/denial, maybe, or the hope that Ella would come clean herself. That’s how obvious it should have been to anyone that “Maddy” was really Ella.

Of course, I could also bring up facts, you know, like most identical twins, no matter how similar they are, still have some giveaways that anyone close to them would notice. Shit, I can tell twins in K-pop groups apart and I’m just a fan. To be fair, the text does mention a birthmark on Ella’s forehead, but since her and Maddy’s faces got scratched up in the accident, no one could use it to distinguish them. Still, there are other giveaways too, such as mannerisms and tics and all the little things people do subconsciously that those close to them would be aware of. Eventually, someone does figure out Ella’s true identity, but not until the plot has been sufficiently advanced under Ella’s improbable masquerade.

When the big reveal finally happens, it’s about as anticlimactic as you can imagine. I can’t decide if the twist itself was super weak or if the foreshadowing was so blatantly obvious I had convinced myself that there had to be more to the story. I would’ve expected more information to unfold if the scrollbar on my ebook wasn’t so close to the bottom, so the resolution had to be near. Said resolution feels both rushed and overdue at the same time, and everything is tied up in a neat bow. On one hand, it’s nice to see a story contained within a single book—everything YA seems to be a series these days—but on the other, I would’ve liked to see some believable repercussions of these events… in a book about a teen who impersonates her dead twin sister because she feels responsible for her sister’s death and because she thinks the sister is the more loved and popular twin.

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But it’s a quick read (I burned through it in a few hours) and keeps you turning the pages. If you have a high tolerance for clichés, plot holes, and balls-out absurdity, you might enjoy this.

2/5 stars

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