Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Tell Me a Secret

Title: Tell Me a Secret
Author: Holly Cupala
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: June 22, 2010
In the five years since her bad-girl sister Xanda’s death, Miranda Mathison has wondered about the secret her sister took to the grave, and what really happened the night she died. Now, just as Miranda is on the cusp of her dreams—a best friend to unlock her sister’s world, a ticket to art school, and a boyfriend to fly her away from it all—Miranda has a secret all her own. Then two lines on a pregnancy test confirm her worst fears. Stripped of her former life, Miranda must make a choice with tremendous consequences and finally face her sister’s demons and her own. In this powerful debut novel, stunning new talent Holly Cupala illuminates the dark struggle of a girl who must let go of her past to find a way into her own future.
Tell Me a Secret is emotional and intriguing from its very first chapter. Holly Cupala perfectly captures her main character's teenage response to her situation. Rand’s emotions and choices are also thoughtfully depicted, and her narrative manages to be imbued with both the uncertainty of youth and a quiet, growing maturity.

That said, Miranda (Rand) is a difficult main character to connect with, as she’s too preoccupied with living up to the legacy of her dead sister - while simultaneously striving to prove to her parents that she is the ‘good girl’ - to form her own coherent identity. The decisions she makes relating to her personal life are far from smart, and she often seems much too willing to pretend problems don’t exist. At the same time, explanative flashbacks and her dysfunctional family make it impossible not to sympathize with her to a certain extent. Rand also inevitably matures throughout the novel, as her circumstances force her to come to terms with aspects of her life that she’s been avoiding.

My most significant issue with Tell Me a Secret is that I found it difficult to really like any of the characters, with the exception of Rand’s boss, Shelley. Rand’s best friend Delaney is a transparent mean-girl, and while boyfriend Kamran’s callous reaction to Rand’s pregnancy is semi-understandable, it does nothing to endear him to readers. The parental figures are, for the most part, deplorable in their inability to deal productively with the daughter they have left. It’s not necessarily that the characters are unrealistic, but that their collective lack of redeeming qualities makes it difficult to be fully invested in the story.

It’s a testament to Cupala’s simple-yet-poignant writing and pacing that I was compelled to continue reading despite these character issues. There were, in fact, a lot of things I liked about Tell Me a Secret. The story kept my attention the entire time, especially during its revelation-propelled latter half. The ending is suitably bittersweet and feels natural given the events of the novel. I especially loved the art references and how they’re integrated into Miranda’s character.

Though ostensibly about teen pregnancy, Tell Me a Secret is equally concerned with self-discovery and dealing with the fallout of a loved one’s death. Despite its largely unsympathetic cast, Holly Cupala’s debut novel is sensitive, riveting, and well-written.

Rating: 3.5/5

Cover Thoughts: Prior to reading the book, I thought it was intriguing and reflected the title well. In retrospect, I think it’s a bit misleading since the romance elements of Tell Me a Secret are a relatively minor aspect of the story.

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