Updated: Apr 21, 2020
The Truth About Keeping Secrets, Savannah Brown
Pub. Date: April 7, 2020
*This Advanced Reader’s E-copy was provided through NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire, free of charge.*
TW: forced outing, abusive relationships, suicidal thoughts, self-harm
Wanna read a mystery thriller in which the lesbian heroine finds out who killed her father? What about a coming of age romance between two women that is intermixed with mental health issues? Well, The Truth About Keeping Secrets can’t seem to decide which of those plots to go with. Instead Brown combines the two as main plots, so you get some elements of both for a slightly skewed collaboration. Savannah Brown’s debut is a decent first try and great if you aren’t looking to analyze it further than a quick skimming of the page while you wait for your next great read. However, if you are looking for a substantial read, I would recommend going elsewhere.
Brown’s debut novel begins with a promising concept. Sydney Whittaker’s father, the town psychiatrist, just died in a car crash and Sydney is stuck in the denial stage of grief. After a breakdown at the funeral where she reveals her suspicions about her dad’s death being deliberate, Sydney begins to receive threatening homophobic texts. All the while, she becomes closer to one of her dad’s patients, June Copeland - homecoming queen, straight-A student, and First Lady to the school valedictorian. The story culminates in Sydney getting help from a friend she meets in a grief support group and helping June escape an abusive relationship. The concepts are interesting as a main plot and subplot, but Brown couldn’t seem to make up her mind about which was which. The book ends up reading like two drafts mashed into one.
One of the things I did like about The Truth was the language. Brown is a poet and it shows in her language. Quotes like the following paint the scene beautifully:
“June, who pulls the car over in the morning, who shows up in the middle of the night, who pulls me into the bathroom at school, who yanks me close and kisses me fast, like she’s been meaning to and has just remembered, who guides me in and kisses me slow, like this is the only thing we have to do for the rest of time, who’s all lips and hands and eyes while I’m all shakes and shakes and shakes---”
The one thing that might have redeemed The Truth for me ended up being twisted along with the plot. Sydney and June end up as a couple by the end of the book, and as much as I want to support their relationship, I cannot fully. It starts out with Sydney spotting June at her father’s funeral and then promptly becoming obsessed with the town’s golden child. June is portrayed as the perfect girl who needs to be rescued from her heterosexual life. While I am glad that Brown does not engage in the bury-your-gays trope that is very popular in thrillers/horror, the relationship feels rushed and the homophobic subplot is forced in as if to give more weight to Sydney’s sexuality.
In addition, Sydney’s mental health issues are overlooked numerous times and even celebrated, such as her obsession with death and violence. She becomes obsessed with this gory version of Youtube where you could view videos of people dying in every scenario possible. Sydney does this so much, she becomes numb to it. Despite being the child of a psychiatrist and going to grief support groups, she receives almost no help and is gas-lit by friends and family when she tries to tell someone about the threats she had been receiving. This book is dark and, while it is entertaining, is not something to be picked up without looking through the trigger warnings.
In another universe, I can see myself falling in love with The Truth About Keeping Secrets, whether it is because I am a different person or because it is a different book. Alas, we are in this cursed timeline, and I cannot give The Truth more than three stars. It is a great idea, if executed properly, and has fantastic language. However, the mangled plots shoved in side-by-side overshadow everything and it makes it hard to finish. Like Sydney is haunted by her father’s untimely death - I too will be haunted by this book’s unmet potential.
If you want to read books with similar plots, try:
All Eyes on Us, by Kit Frick (this book is what The Truth could have been)
The Amateurs, by Sara Shepard (another mystery thriller about finding out who killed the hero’s sister)
Snotgirl, by Bryan O’Malley (a graphic novel series where the protagonist tries to find out if she accidentally...well, spoilers!!)
Do you feel the same way about The Truth About Keeping Secrets? Do you think I was too hard on it? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,