I am reviewing this book as part of
the Lesbian Teen Novels Week hosted here.
If you would like more information about the week,
Summary from Goodreads:As she begins a very tough last semester of high school, Holland finds herself puzzled about her future and intrigued by a transfer student who wants to start a lesbigay club at school.
I have been a huge fan of Julie Anne Peters after reading her beautiful and sensitive book Luna about a girl born in a boy's body (my review here) and I think that Keeping You A Secret is my favourite lesbian young adult novel. I love the story, the writing, the characters and the themes present in this book. But I know this is my favourite because this is the one book I wish was translated into French so that I could give it to my parents to read. I don't come from a place where homosexuality is seen as remotely ok, you often hear that gay people are "disturbed" or that "you wouldn't leave your children with them" and I found that Keeping You A Secret showed a lot of things I felt inside and never been able to express. It talks about the beauty of love and the hurt one feels when confronted with the hate and ignorance around.
Holland lives a pretty regular life, she is in her senior year in high school, is class president, has a lot of friends, does sports and has a loving boyfriend. For her last semester in high school she took way too many classes, including an Art Class she has no reasons to be in. Then she meets Cece, she has a long blond ponytail, a cryptic t-shirt (IMRU?) and a whole lot of confidence. From that moment on, Holland can't stop thinking about her and starts to question herself and her sexuality.
Holland's self-discovery is brilliantly told in this book. I don't want to say too much for fear of spoiling the read for you but I could really relate to what was going on in her mind and how she couldn't put words on the feelings for Cece which were starting to grow inside of her. Holland and Cece feel passionately attracted to each other but it's by getting to know one another that they really fall in love.
Another side of Holland is how misunderstood she is by her own family. Her mother, who had Holland at 16 and had to go to work early instead of going to College has a love/hate relationship with Holland. Of course she loves her daughter and is fiercely protective of her, but you feel the resentment coming through every now and then. Holland's mother also wants to live through her so Holland doesn't get much of a say over her life. She used to find it annoying before, but now that the college application deadlines are coming up, her mother is becoming downright unbearable and will not let Holland choose a future for herself. This type of pressure on teenagers is very common from parents and Julie Anne Peters shows brilliantly the consequences it has on teenagers. Holland has no idea what she wants to do in her life, she is doing good in all her classes but doesn't have real affinities with any. Then she starts this Art class as a way to fill in a blank period. Art is obviously not a career possibility for her mother, but Holland realises that she really likes it, and quite surprisingly, that she is good at it.
Throughout the book is also shown the type of homophobia that gay people have to go through regularly. Everyone is "fine with homosexuality" (you know, because it isn't very proper to be full-on against it) but you realise that their actions don't add up to what they say. That parents have this attitude, you can sort of see where they're coming from, but a lot of the hate comes from teenagers themselves. When Cece wants to create the Lesbigay club in Holland's high school, everyone says that "there are no gays in the school" and they don't understand why a Lesbigay club would be useful anyway. Obviously, this isn't true and many of the teens questioning their sexuality would rather wait for college to actually come out because there is no way they would "survive high school" if they didn't.
The book is about a lesbian love story and how a teenager has to face her family and peers to be accepted for who she is, but it's also a universal story for all the people who go through this type of bullying in school and who feel there isn't anyone to help them.
One of the aspects of the book I loved is how Cece's character explains what a Lesbigay club entails and how they help people how to come out and that if all hell breaks lose and your family and friends turn against you, you are not alone because there is a big loving family just waiting for you. There is a real positive message in this book without the reality being sugar-coated in any way. It really shows you that things do get better. This is a very powerful book that really hit home for me, but I am sure other people will learn a lot by reading it, especially those who are not themselves questioning their sexuality. I really feel that for parents or friends of people who just came out, reading this book would be really helpful.
Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters | 2005 | Little, Brown | Bought on Amazon.