By Jeff Walsh
In Keeping You A Secret, Julie Anne Peters doesn't waste much time in setting up the two main characters. On the very first page, Holland sees the T-Shirt of a new girl, Cece, across the hall from her high school locker. Holland's stomach "flutter"s when she first sees the new girl and ponders the meaning of the letters on her shirt, IMRU? Am I what? Holland wonders to herself. The rest of the book explores that question.
Holland is a driven student, taking extra courses, staying up at all hours to do homework, serving as student body president, waking up early to swim laps, and working in a day care after school for extra money. But none of it seems to be her choice, let alone her desire. She just slogs through every day on autopilot doing everything that is expected of her. Her mother even turns a blind eye to Holland having sex with her boyfriend, as long as they're being careful. In just a few short months, high school will be over and the rest of her life can begin, although she doesn't seem to have much interest in finishing applications for college either.
Peters definitely paints an accurate portrait of high school life today (writes the old man), and especially of kids raised to be perfect to compensate for their parents' shortcomings. The majority of the book is Holland slowly coming to terms with why her heart races whenever she just catches a glimpse of Cece.
One of my favorite things in the book is something that should be taken in and adopted by Oasis readers. Holland, after going through a lot of monumental events involving her friends and her boyfriend, bristles at the first time she is called a lesbian. Peters lets us hear Holland's thoughts in that moment:
"A lesbian? Is that what I was? I hadn't thought about a new self-identity. A label. All I knew was, I loved her."
If only more people could follow their heart and desires, and allow that level of self-exploration without immediately trying on new labels like they're on sale for a short time.
The book is an easy, engaging read, but it doesn't give us a simplified portrait of a life tied up with a pretty bow. But the characters do end up in a place that is true to their experience, and shows us that sometimes the detours life puts in front of us are the path we are actually meant to follow. We just don't always know it at the time.
As a lot of people have read this book, I cribbed some of the Reading Group discussion questions from the book, so that people could use this as a jumping off point to talk about their own experiences.
-- What expectations are placed on you by your parents as a son or daughter? Do you feel expectations as a student? As a friend? Girlfriend or boyfriend? Do you expect things of yourself? Are expectations good or bad? Do expectations shape your life?
-- A recurring theme in Keeping You A Secret is honesty -- telling the truth about yourself, to yourself and to others. Can you think of a time in your life when you didn't acknowledge the truth about yourself? Why did you hold back?
-- What obstacles did Holland have to overcome to get to the truth that she was a lesbian? Why do you think it took Holland so long to come to terms with it?