Heading into the final semester of her senior year, Holland is trying to figure out her future. Where will she go to school? What are her goals in life? Will she stay with her perfect boyfriend Seth?
Instead of taking an extra study hall, Holland takes an art class. She also starts to notice and make friends with the new girl, CeCe, who has just transferred to her school.
Before the semester ends, Holland’s life will change completely in ways she couldn’t expect.
Julie Anne Peters’ Keeping You A Secret is a coming of age and coming out story for Holland. Over the course of the story, Holland begins to realize that the dreams her mother has for her (and seems to consistently force upon her) aren’t the dreams she has. Her mother dismisses her interest in art, continually belittles any school that isn’t Ivy-League-level, and even casts dispersions upon Holland’s growing friendship with CeCe, at one point telling Holland she needs to drop CeCe as a friend. (SPOILER alert — things get a lot worse when Holland comes out to herself and is then forced out by her vindictive ex-boyfriend, Seth).
I’m torn on how I feel about this young adult novel. On the one hand, the journey that Holland undergoes emotionally as she falls in love with CeCe is one feels completely authentic. But there are several points along the way that feel a bit like the novel is trying too hard to be melodramatic.
These stem from Holland’s relationship with her mother, who is beyond controlling. Peters tries to sow seeds of the mom’s motivation early — she got pregnant with Holland at fifteen and had to give up on some of her dreams to raise her daughter. But, her mother’s constantly meddling and then reaction when Holland is outed (she throws a fit, hitting Holland repeatedly and throwing her out of the house) make the character seem too much like a Snidley-Whiplash type of obstacle. The story does try to have some reconciliation between the two in the waning chapters, only for it to go wrong with the mother won’t accept Holland isn’t “going through a phase” and withholds her college money and Holland’s personal savings from her.
The other stems from a portion of the novel in which it appears that CeCe could be cheating on Holland. As the novel progressed, I was never quite sure how to feel about CeCe. I never quite feel like CeCe is given the depth she needs in the story (none of the supporting characters really are for that matter). The cheating is eventually resolved, but you can’t help but wonder just how secure the future for Holland and CeCe really is (of course, you can say the same about most young adult novel romances, I guess).
Listening to this as an audiobook, I have to say that it wasn’t one of my favorite performances of a novel. Rebekah Lavin’s choices for the voices of different characters becomes a bit grating after a while (the voice used for the art teacher seems like a bad impression of Spiccoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and that may have detracted a bit from my overall enjoyment of the novel.