Sunday 22 May 2016

The Secrets We Keep

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman, (UQP)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5421 5

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kasmer

It’s been six weeks since a fire burnt down Clem’s home and now her Mum and her old life are gone. The few things she has managed to salvage are tainted by the smell of the fire and painful memories of losing her mum. Clem and father can now no longer afford to stay in the neighbourhood and are forced to move into a tiny flat so they can be closer to her father’s work and Clem’s new school.

On her first day of school Clem meets Ellie and in an effort to fit in, Clem lets a secret slip about what happened to her mum which she immediately regrets. As Ellie’s mum is in hospital dying of cancer, Ellie immediately bonds with Clem over common ground of losing a mother. This connection places Clem in the awkward situation of coming between Ellie and her oldest friend Tam who becomes jealous of Clem. To Clem’s credit she is able to put herself in Tam’s shoes and wonders how she would feel in the same situation.

Clem is helped through her struggles by her ever optimistic father who works at the botanical gardens and wears a big jacket that Clem buries her face in so she can smell his earthiness. Maggie, the neighbour in the flat upstairs, provides a refuge for Clem, offering tea, freshly baked treats and also a sense of purpose by giving her the job of feeding and caring for the fish whilst Maggie is away for work.

Clem is a runner and the track is where she can be her true self, it is where all her problems float away. It is interesting to watch how Clem learns to recognise, and return to, the things in her life that bring her joy (such as running). But will Clem continue to run from her problems? Or will she find the strength to face the truth about what really happened with her mum and the fire?

Reading this book brought back strong memories of my own primary school experiences; the emotions, school yard dynamics, politics and rivalries. My eleven year old self was right there beside Clem on her first day of school peering into the school playground.

And I’m out here. Looking through holes in the wire, wondering how I’m going to do this.

Nova Weetman does a beautiful job of shining a light on what it’s like to feel lost and having to fit into new surroundings when everything familiar is gone. This is a wonderfully relatable book that has strong appeal for middle grade readers. When I closed the book there was a real sense of sadness not only that the story had come to an end but that it had been resolved so beautifully.

Elizabeth Kasmer is a Sunshine Coast based writer of children’s and young adult fiction.

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