The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman (UQP) PB RRP $16.99
Reviewed by Joanne Pummer
This novel by Nova Weetman, is highly recommended for all children (9 yrs+), but it's especially relevant for children feeling anger towards a parent who's struggling with depression, mental illness or addiction.
Written in the first person, by eleven year old Clem, the story starts on the first day at a new school, when Clem and her Dad are living in a flat because their house has burnt down. The fate of her mother is a mystery; 'Mum was asleep' is all Clem tells us. This is the hook that entices the reader.
Clem's new friend, Ellie, is inquisitive about the reasons she has shifted schools. 'My mum died,' Clem says. Three words she'll live to regret. Ellie, believing she's found someone who understands, tells Clem her mother is dying of cancer.
We feel for Clem when she has flashbacks of her mother before the fire, in bed, crying, unable to cope with housework, the signs of depression. Ellie's mother dies and Clem is unable to face the funeral.
A turning point comes when Clem receives a letter from her mother and refuses to read it. Clem is angry, believing it was her mother who started the fire, When Ellie finds out she flees in tears, because Clem has lied to her.
I had a lump in my throat when Clem, eventually, between sobs, reveals her shameful secret. She wished her mother had died in the fire because it's easier to talk about a dying mother than one who's unavailable. My tears came at the last page, when Clem sees her mother at the school athletics carnival, with her 'arms out and ready' and Clem says ''Mum''.
Warning: Copious amounts of sugar were eaten by the characters, during the writing of this book.