Keeping You A Secret: Book Review

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?

Comments

dykehalo's picture

I love Julie Anne Peters.. I

I love Julie Anne Peters.. I can't say it enough. She's AMAZING. I've written to her after each of her books i've read and within a couple hours she has emailed me back... It's amazing.
This book is one of the best lesbian teen books i've read.

What expectations are placed on you by your parents as a son or daughter?
I'm always pressured into gettting good grades, being the perfect little angel by not getting in trouble. To do whatever they say when they say it but mostly to succeed and to be an honor student.

Do you feel expectations as a student?
In elementary school i got a rep for being the go to girl. If anything needed to be done there i was. I also had a rep for being an honor student, so teachers would get on me for not doing better. In highschool teachers who don't know me still pressure me to be a honor student because they know i can or they think i can. I also always feel pressured to join clubs and be active in the school.

As a friend?
My friends have gotten used to being able to reach me anyday any time they please. They are used to being able to rely on me and not have me complain or not be their. So i always feel that i'm expected to be reachable (email, cell, home phone etc.) at all times and that my friends always know where i am because they freak if they can't. I also feel that because everyone relys on me they don't want and don't expect to be relied on so that i'm expected to just deal with stuff myself.

Do you expect things of yourself?
I just expect myself to do what others expect of me and be the best i can be... ( I know kinda corny)

Are expectations good or bad?
I think they can all be good and bad. They give you something to try and read but at times if you can't reach them you can feel really bad and they can turn into something negative.

Do expectations shape your life?
Definitaly

-- 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?
That is the story of my coming out... For awhile i knew i was a lesbian but i wouldn't let my self believe it because i didn't want to be "different" i just wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to be accepted and not stick out from the crowd.
~~~NO DAY BUT TODAY~~~

ReinbowGrl's picture

I absolutly love love love

I absolutly love love love this book. I've read it so many times that I've lost count.

milk-tea's picture

my first dyke book! its

my first dyke book! its bloody fantastic, to boot :D

"society is crumbling faster than an Oreo cookie being run over by a turqouise freight train."

deepspace87's picture

i agree with dykehalo, she

i agree with dykehalo, she is an AMAZING author. ever read 'far from xanadu'?

Never be afraid to stand up for whats right. If you lose your values, you've lost yourself, so dont let someone change you into someone you arnt. Don't be afraid of the punishment, Rejoyce in the freedom that let to it.

colorcrzed's picture

far from xanado

also an awsome book!

dykehalo's picture

i have... i've read all of

i have... i've read all of her young adult ones.
~~~NO DAY BUT TODAY~~~

lookin to the future...'s picture

makes me cry...

okay okay... i am the most sensitive dyke to ever walk the face of the planet but still.... this book is absolutely fabulous!!! i loved it!!! the best lesbian book i have ever read... julie anne peters is amazing!! :)

taste the rainbow's picture

Is the second book I've ever

Is the second book I've ever read that I did willingly(ie not for school), and is the first book that I have EVER gone out of my way to purchase/the first book I've purchased for myself. Ya I don't like reading, but this is a must must must read for all, especially bi/les/queer/whatever girls.

"What they don't know can't hurt them

but it sure as hell can hurt me"

the mouse that roared's picture

I couldn't finish it

I can't really take Julie Anne Peters' writing. It and characters' interactions seem simplified. I could get through Luna, and Far From Xanadu because of a straight crush, but I don't like her books that much. The general accessibility and success of her books is great for young gay lit, I'm just not so into it.

No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless; there is too much work to do.--Dorothy Day

rowie's picture

KYAS

i love this book, its great. its so sad at some points but so beautiful at others.
ive read "empress of the world" and "annie on my mind" but "KYAS" definately wins on storyline. although "boy meets boy" i have to say wins for quality of writing.

--i used to be a tomboy, now im a full grown lesbian--

**you must be the change you wish to see in the world**

Toph's picture

Oh, I just love this book!

Oh, I just love this book! It made me cry, and the last time a book made me cry was in 5th grade. But, this book is amazing.

~May the spirits guide your every move...to assure you please her in all the right places XD

icantpredictthefuture002's picture

i loved it

i saw this book on the shelve and it sort of popped out.. i grabbed it and read it.. i absulutly loved it.. it was my first lesbian relationship book and it was awsome.. im in the closet right now, it taught me that you shouldnt come out unless your ready.. so thats what im waiting for... so, i abuslutly loved this story and if anyone is questioning there sexuality or wondering whens the right time to come out.. they should read this book..