Novel: The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver | Goodreads
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
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.
Being a twin, this book was a hard read. It raised a lot of questions. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to read it: being a twin is such a complex and vast part of my life and I’m always curious as to what books get it and what books don’t. First off, my biggest fear is this book. This plotline. As a twin, it’s a constant struggle between maintaining the close relationship but also being different enough to not be seen as half a person, or a unit.
The Secrets We Keep actually did a really good job with that relationship. Although Ella and Maddy were two very different people – a contrast that did seem rather caricature-like at times – there were points when the phrasing made it obvious that Leaver had control over the relationship. There were points of impact, of reflection, that made me put the book down and say, “okay, that’s definitely realistic for a twin.”
When Ella gets the phone call, she’s frustrated. After all, she’s always the one picking up Maddy from a party. Meanwhile, she’s the one who stays home to work on her art school applications and stay out of the way of Maddy’s trailblazing friends, the ones who rule the school. She’d rather just hang out with her best friend Josh anyways. But something about this time is different. Maddy’s upset, crying, sober. So Ella gets the keys and goes to get Maddy.
On the way back, their entire world changes. The car flips; one of the twins dies. But when Ella wakes up in the hospital and Maddy’s boyfriend is there, waiting anxiously for her to wake up, the clusters of friends spilling out into the hallway, she’s broken.
Her other half is gone. Everybody’s waiting for her, for Maddy, convinced that Ella died in the crash. And this is the last thing she can do for her twin, the last dedication she can make. Her life.
It’s easier than she expects to slip into Maddy’s role, to grieve for herself over a fake grave because everybody’s relieved that at least one of them survived. But it isn’t easy to pretend she’s someone else around her best friend, to realize that Maddy had secrets that Ella never dreamed about, loved her more than Ella thought. When everything comes crashing down, she has to make her choice. Maddy or Ella? Half or whole?
I was blown away when this book started before the action. It was squeamish and devastating for me to read the words before, the actions before, when you know what’s about to happen but can’t stop reading. The pure anguish behind Ella’s reactions and the grief that comes crashing down – it’s heartbreaking.
I wasn’t expecting Ella’s motives to be bathed in such shades of gray. It seems a bit like The Lying Game, a plot where Ella would pretend to be Maddy for the purpose of finding her secrets, living another life. But Ella does it out of grief, and that paints the book in an entirely different light, one that deals with sadness and jealousy in stunning amounts.
Ella goes back to school, and has to deal with Alex – Maddy’s longtime boyfriend – and seeing Josh, and the whole crowd that is nothing like her. They’re like Maddy, not her, and realizing that is something that touches on self-esteem, guilt, and darker issues.
Ella was complex, with insecurities that stemmed from being a twin (ones that I related to deeply) and ones that stemmed from her shyness. She was convinced that people would rather have Maddy than her, and that broke my heart a little bit. Her character development, riddled by moments of selfishness and emotion, was well-written and subtle. It reminded me a lot of This Song Will Save Your Life, between the undercurrent commentary on popularity and self-image versus the startling lengths that the characters go to in order to find themselves.
You do have to suspend reality a little bit to get used to this. Even identical twins – I’m an identical twin – have identifying features, personality quirks, habits, that are so ingrained in them that it’s not hard to distinguish the two (I’m biased.)
The book is polished in a way that fits in well with YA. It has the same flow, that absorbing nature of any solid book, and although it’s raw, it’s always clean enough to fly through the pages. It was a relatively short read for me because I knocked it out in a sitting or two, but it’s a compelling plotline with some moral ambiguity thrown in for good measure. It’s a mixture between the addictive, drama-filled promise of Maddy’s secrets and the poignant reflection of Ella on the impact of her sister.
It’s a book about contrast. Ella/Maddy, living/dying, fun/sadness. That quality lends it a vivid personality that transcends its pages even when it gets to be a bit much. Maddy and Ella clashed often, with consequences that bled into the aftermath of the accident.
I loved this book. It was wild yet clean, with heart-wrenching events painted in a reflective – and addictive – tone. As a twin and as a person, it affected me to the core. It’s shockingly haunting, with a character-driven backbone, brilliant pacing, and plenty of scenes that are surprisingly authentic. I’d highly recommend it. Painful, visceral, and vibrant.