By Keely Moloney
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a house burn, but it’s not like anything else . . .
Clem Timmins has lost it all – her house, possessions and clothes. Now living in a tiny flat with her dad, she has to go to a new school far from what she knows.
On her first day, Clem meets Ellie. To fit in, Clem reveals a secret and immediately regrets sharing too much with her new friend.
How can Clem face everything in her life when all she wants to do is run away?
The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman follows the story of eleven-year-old Clem Timmins in the aftermath of the fire that claimed her childhood home and her mother’s life as she juggles her relationships with her grieving father, new and old friends as well as uprooting her life from the town she had always called home to start afresh at a new school.
Much like Weetman’s previous novel, Frankie and Joely, The Secrets We Keep is an honest look into the leap from childhood to adolescence as a girl today, this time with a certain heaviness that comes along with dealing with “adult problems” at a young age.
She handles topics usually reserved for older audiences, death and mental illness, in a delicate manner from the viewpoint of Clem, who ultimately is coming to terms with her own feelings towards her mother’s death and the underlying causes surrounding it.
Particularly intriguing was Weetman’s ability to tap into Clem’s mind and realistically explore the thought process and of a girl in her early teenage years when faced with death.
“My mum died a few years ago, and it was a huge impact on my kids lives. They were very close to her [and| what hurt my daughter the most was that she felt shut out of the rocess of my mum dying,” Weetman explained.
“She didn’t feel like she had access to her to just explore what it was for her. I think as adults we have this idea that children won’t understand so we keep them separate and I actually think kids are so aware of all these issues that are happening around them.”
“I definitely wrote that book with the intention of exploring subjects that I think are absolutely critical for young people in a way that they feel they can get something out of it.”
The Secrets We Keep is a relatable and true story that provides a fresh insight into kids growing up dealing with family members suffering from mental illnesses, trying to make sense of what is happening around them.
As this novel took me back to tougher periods in my own early teenage years, I found myself becoming attached to Clem and empathetic towards her struggle, being thrust into situations she didn’t entirely understand, the social implications in the schoolyard and the way she felt on display in a sense when opening up too much to classmates.
Writing the book was, in its own little way, a way for Weetman and her daughter to connect.
“This book came out of my kids watching their dad live with pretty severe depression. It was a way for my daughter and I to talk about it – me writing the book and her having a big hand in editing, and conversation around what the character of Clem goes through,” Weetman said.
“I think for her it was about realizing that it wasn’t something to be ashamed of, or keep quiet about, it was something that had to be talked about.”
Despite being slightly older than the intended audience, I found myself unable to put the book down, I became enthralled by the plotline in the way only a legitimately good story can do.
Clem’s emotional journey as she comes to terms with the anger and grief she feels, is one that has the ability to be of comfort to many readers, and it makes me wish that The Secrets We Keep had been around when I, too, was Clem’s age.
Photocredit: Nova Weetman