The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver
(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)Published by Macmillan on April 28th 2015
Genres: Bullying, Death & Dying, Family, JUVENILE FICTION, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Siblings, Social Issues, Young Adult
Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy's shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she's chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy's world.When--after a heated argument--Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy's death and everyone's grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy's life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options--confess her deception or live her sister's life.
I have a sister, an Irish Twin as my mother used to call us. We were insanely different and amazingly alike growing up. She was by best friend and my fiercest competitor. The person I didn’t understand but wanted to be exactly like.
Two years ago, during the holidays, we were reminiscing about the silly misconceptions we harbored as teenagers. Things like: who was the smartest, who was the prettiest, who was the most favored by our parents, who got away with more. That night, I had a nightmare about losing my sister. We were driving back to college, arguing over the radio station and whose turn it was to pay for gas. The roads were wet, it was dark and . . . well, we had an accident. I woke up from my dream the instant our car hit the tree. That nightmare turned into the first three chapters THE SECRETS WE KEEP and about eight weeks later, the book of my heart was born.
We have to know… what was the weirdest thing you googled while researching this story?
Heredity traits of moles and re-growth after removal. I have way more knowledge than I ever imagined I would need about moles and their positioning on the body. And a greater appreciation for sunscreen!
What was your favorite scene to write and why?
Ella’s first day back at school after the accident. She’s been in full-on Maddy mode for the entire morning and, despite Alex’s help, she’s beginning to break down. The guilt, the fear, and the realization of what she’s actually signed on for finally hits her, and she’s struggling to stay in part. In search of a quiet, safe place to hide away and regroup, Ella sneaks down the school’s back staircase to the window she’s spent the last three years staring out of. Not thinking, or perhaps subconsciously clinging to a piece of her old self, she pulls out a notebook from Maddy’s bag and starts drawing. And for a few bittersweet moments, she feels like herself.
I love that scene, because in a way, it shows that no matter how hard she tries, no matter how resolute she is in her decision, Ella can never truly deny who she is . . . to herself or the rest of the world. When I was a teenager, I was constantly trying to reinvent myself, thinking the person I was just wasn’t quite good enough. And with every milestone—my freshman year in high school, my sixteenth birthday, going away to college—I vowed to leave the old, boring me behind and become someone more noteworthy. I took me years, but eventually I realized that who I was, quirks and all, was exactly who I was meant to be.
Did any of your characters surprise you by doing something you didn’t expect?
I don’t plot my books before I write them, so my characters are constantly surprising me as they guide the direction of the story from one chapter to the next. But the one who veered completely off course for me in THE SECRETS WE KEEP was Molly. When I first envisioned her character, I never intended her to be as forgiving or understanding as she was. I pictured her more vengeful, the kind of person who could hold a grudge for decades. But as I started writing her out, a more compassionate and understanding side of her came to light, one that I think compliments Ella’s struggle well.
Do you have a dream cast, or did you have anyone in mind while writing?
I didn’t have a dream cast when I started writing THE SECRETS WE KEEP, but as the characters developed and their individualities took form, I began imagining certain actors in my mind. I think Emma Roberts would make the perfect Ella/ Maddy. As for Josh, I think Gregg Sulkin would be just about perfect! Alex is a tough one. So many different actors come to mind when I think about his character. But, if I had to narrow it down to just one, I would have to go with Daniel Sharman.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Read, read, READ! Read everything and anything. Don’t be afraid of trends; right what you love not what people tell you the market wants. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and write harder than you ever thought possible. Tap your emotions, even the painful ones, and pull them into your story.
What’s next for you? Are you working on anything right now that you can tell us about?
I am working on another YA Contemporary as we speak. It is tentatively titled NEVER LOST. It has a similar tone to THE SECRETS WE KEEP although the characters are wildly different. I would tell you more about it, but I am one of those superstitious writers who thinks breathing a word about a WIP before it is completely done will somehow curse it to fail.
Favorite Song (right now)–
All of Me by John Legend
Wild Child by Kenny Chesney
Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran
Prayer in C by Lilly Wood & The Prick
Ghost by Ella Henderson
Favorite Book (right now) –
THE STORY SPINNER by Becky Wallace
Favorite TV Show/Movie (right now) –
Hummed as in “I hummed the ball against the wall.” Although every editor I have worked with has made me take it out of my manuscripts as apparently it doesn’t translate well off Cape Cod. LOL
Favorite Snack –
Chocolate covered expresso beans…by the handful!
Thank you so much for all the insight Trisha!
As identical twins, Ella and Maddy were as close as you can get, but when they entered high school, things drastically changed… Maddy drifted to the popular crowd and didn’t exactly welcome Ella to join her. Ella was okay with this, and instead focused on her art and her close friendships instead.
But over the years, the differences between them seem insurmountable and Ella fears they’ll never overcome them. And an argument coming home from a party leaves Maddy dead… and Ella decides in a split second to pretend to be the twin that everyone loved and admired. But that choice has Ella realizing that Maddy’s life wasn’t as easy as she may have thought and uncovering secrets that she never would have guessed Maddy had buried.
I’m obsessed with twin books… I’m sure you all know why. As a twin, it’s interesting to see how people interpret the relationship between twins and all that entails.
What made this story so incredibly interesting to me was that Ella and Maddy weren’t close… they barely knew each other at the time of the accident and as someone who has an incredibly close relationship with her twin sister it was so hard to grasp… yet in ways, I could understand it.
I completely understood that desire to be one … to not look exactly like someone else, to want to be independent and live your own life, but it did hurt to experience it from Ella’s point of view, the be the one who’s pushed away and left behind in so many ways.
The aftermath of the accident was so hard to grasp. To know that a part of yourself… because that’s essentially what an identical twin is… is gone forever. That you’ll never have that other person in your life, even if they were for the most part estranged… it’s hard to comprehend.
I really thought Leaver did an amazing job of showing Ella’s struggle… the choice to become Maddy, thinking it would make up for the accident, giving her parents the twin she thought they were most proud of, and everyone at school the friend they wouldn’t know how to handle losing, and forever giving up herself, her art, and her friends in the process.
It was also really wonderful for Ella to come to the realization that she was loved just as much as Maddy was… it may not have been quite as showy but she definitely had people who were mourning her loss and I think that was something she had to see in order to believe having lived in Maddy’s shadow for so long.
What didn’t work for me though, was that her parents and “boyfriend” and friends couldn’t tell who she was. We’re led to believe that both Maddy and Ella had very distinct personalities, and I just feel like if these people really knew both Maddy and Ella they would have realized who they were with even if they looked exactly alike. I say this as someone with a twin… we look alike, but there are tells, personality differences, gestures, expressions… everyone has something, and I was surprised that at the very least their parents couldn’t tell who was who.
That said, I really enjoyed the bit of mystery that was unravelling. I liked that Ella wasn’t giving up on finding out what the secrets were and was determined to set things right as well. I also really enjoyed Leaver’s interpretation of popularity and how it isn’t as amazing as one might think, instead once you’re at the top there seems to be a constant need for validation and avoiding anything that might lead to gossip that could have you tumbling to the bottom rung on the high school social ladder.
If you’re looking for a character driven, thought-provoking story with an interesting premise… characters who are flawed but for the most part redeemable and heartbreaking story of finding where you belong and accepting who you are you’re definitely going to want to grab The Secrets We Keep when it arrives.
Thank you to Macmillan for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest thoughts.