Title: Keeping You a Secret
Author: Julie Anne Peters
Many people would agree that stories of queer young men are hard to find, and stories starring queer women are rare. When I found Julie Anne Peters Keeping You a Secret, I was excited to have found what had been missing. Unfortunately, upon actually reading the book I was disappointed, finding the story to be a predictable and the characters’ main personality traits boiled down to their sexuality.
The story starts with Holland, a high school senior who seems to have her entire life planned out perfectly until a new girl transfers to her school. The new girl, named Cece, is an out and proud lesbian who, to the surprise of Holland but not the reader, Holland falls for. She breaks up with her boyfriend and begins dating Cece behind the back of the students at school and her mother, but eventually, the secret comes out and Holland is kicked out of her house while her mother yells “It’s sick! Perverted! You’re perverted”. If the plotline has one positive, it would be that it is very true to life and surely one that many queer people have themselves experienced. However, this is where major problems with the book come in.
Firstly, when I read a piece of fiction while I do like to see myself and my experiences in the story, hearing the same sort of coming out narrative that has been told a hundred different ways doesn’t feel very creative or interesting. While coming out stories are undoubtedly important, this means the story isn’t very memorable. In fact, I didn’t even remember the name of the narrator or love interest and had to reread the first chapter again while writing this review.
The second problem is that I found everything rather predictable, which is what I think happens when the conflict of a story is nothing more than a character coming out. Like I said before, coming out stories can be important to many people, but when that is a narrative’s only major plot point the whole story feels like kind of a letdown. A piece of fiction, even realistic fiction, should let a reader escape their own life for a while. So while seeing a representation of queer young women was pleasant, and the depiction of homophobia accurate, I like to read things that do more to take me out of reality.
Holland’s and Cece’s personalities also felt like they only extended as far as their sexualities. This especially feels like the case for Cece, whose character arc entirely revolves around her being a lesbian; it is constantly noted that she wears shirts with slogans like, “IMRU?”, and that her car has bumper stickers that say things like, “HATE IS NOT A FAMILY VALUE” and “2QT2BSTR8”. While these themselves are pretty innocuous and I’m sure we all know people this openly and wonderfully full of pride, I cannot recall an instance of her showing interest in something other than starting a Gay-Straight Alliance and taking Holland to a show put on by a group of queer performers. At least Holland has an interest in swimming.
This book was written in 2003, so that was a different time for the queer community. It was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and a Stonewall Book Award, each an honor given to exceptional queer books. Since then, though, it hasn’t aged well. Now that we have stories exploring different kinds of queer narratives outside of tragic coming out stories, the aforesaid has just become dry and cliche.