Book Review: Four Secrets

Four Secrets
Published By: Carolrhoda Books
Publication Date: October 1, 2012
Page Count: 288
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Audience: Young Adult 

Four Secrets is about some kids who kidnapped a fellow classmate and get sent to a juvenile detention center. I was never very clear on if they were pre-trial or why they were in there at that point in the story, because the narrative made it sound like their trial was coming up. I guess maybe they were too dangerous to have out on the streets and didn’t get bail? Anyway, I found that aspect of the story unclear and felt like it should have been clearer because not everyone reading would have a really good understanding of the US system for dealing with criminals who are also minors. As this is a book aimed at minors, I think that was an opportunity lost to educate.

Moving forward beyond that, the plot was set up to explain how a really popular boy, Chase, had been held captive by Nate, Katie & Renata for a whole week. The reasons why they would kidnap him were examined a little bit, but for the large part, the reader was left to fill in the bullying blanks. I think that was a good idea, as each reader can make the story a little more relevant to their own lives this way. The details of the kidnapping and subsequent week of imprisonment were sketchy at best, and it appeared that these three kids had been imprisoned on Chase’s word and the fact that there were drugs in his system.

Nate, Katie and Renata make a pact not to talk about what happened, and it is left up to a social worker at the Detention Center to investigate what really happened. Much of this investigation happens through her getting the kids to write in journals, and reading between the lines. The narrative is formed by from parts about the social worker and the journal entries of Katie and Nate. Renata is more of an artist and her contributions are mainly conveyed through discussions with the social worker, and in-text illustrations. I thought Katie’s contributions were interesting, but Nate’s really annoyed me. His character is an aspiring fantasy writer and he writes his journal with a kind of “What ho! Verily I will not tally here any longer,” kind of style that irritated me so much that I very nearly cast the book aside. I could see the reasoning for his style, and it did relax as he let his guard down, which helped me out a lot but the irritation was there and well established by that point.

I guess the main problem for me was that the plot revolves around the secrets that each of the four kids desperately clings to and you really don’t find out much at all about what happened and what they are hiding until about 75% the way through the book, so I felt like there was very little happening until that point. There is exploration of the kids’ parents by the social worker, and she contacts sports coaches at school, as well as exploring the scene of the crime too. All this seemed to me to be a massive overstep on her part – the character admits as much – and should have been something the police were doing but they didn’t figure at all in this book. So these kids get locked away for who knows how long, and it seems like no one who should be asking questions does. I also didn’t connect with any of the characters; I felt like I didn’t get to know them as people at all, because they were so determined not to talk about what mattered to them. When they finally did reveal their secrets they became a lot more interesting and they decided that they should talk about issues, but to each other because the book was ending!

I think this would make a much better movie than a book. I felt that while the idea was a good one, and the journal entries of the kids were semi-interesting, there was a lot of stuff that I actually ended up skimming because I was just a little bit underwhelmed by this one.  

"To you the idea to kidnap Chase Dobson might seem like a mistake. But to us... we were just trying to stop him from being so...evil. We just...we had to stop him. No one helps kids like us. Not at my school. We aren't the important kids. We knew it wouldn't stop unless we stopped it ourselves."

Katie, Nate, and Renata had no farther to fall down the social ladder. But when they hit bottom, they found each other. Together, they wanted to change things. To stop the torment.

So they made a plan. One person seemed to have everyone's secrets—and all the power. If they could stop him...
But secrets are complicated, powerful things. They are hard to keep. And even a noble plan to stop a bully can go horribly wrong.