Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 12 to 15
- Grade: 7 to 10
- Reading age: 12 to 15
First she blamed herself. Now she doesn’t know who to trust.
When Kit disappeared at a party and was found drowned in the quarry the next day, Clem knew who to point the finger at: herself. She was the last person to see him alive, the last person who could have helped. If she had just kept a closer eye on him instead of her crush, Jake, maybe Kit would still be here. She knows she made a mistake, and wishes she could just forget about it — but Clem’s friend Ellie says she’ll expose Clem’s secret if she doesn’t play along with Ellie’s lies.
Jake seems to have his own difficult secrets, and when he and Clem start to talk, they make a plan to help themselves move on. But when an unexpected discovery at the quarry makes everyone question what they thought they knew, Clem and Jake decide it’s up to them to uncover the truth.
About the author
Deb Loughead is the author of more than twenty-five books for children and young adults. She completed an English degree at the University of Toronto before working as a copy editor. She turned to creative writing after deciding to stay home to raise her three sons. Deb's books have been translated into seven languages, and her award-winning poetry and adult fiction have appeared in a variety of Canadian publications. In addition to having extensive experience with educational writing, Deb has conducted workshops and held readings at schools, festivals and conferences across the country. She has written and directed children’s plays and taught creative writing classes for adults in Toronto. Deb likes to spend her non-writing time reading, knitting or hanging around horses as a therapeutic riding volunteer. Deb lives with her family in Toronto, Ontario. For more information, visit www.debloughead.ca.
- Commended, Dewey Divas and the Dudes Winter 2017 pick
Excerpt: The Secrets We Keep (by (author) Deb Loughead)
Our principal steps up to the mic and taps it. The sound, like a gunshot, makes me jump. My heart is hammering so hard everyone in the auditorium must be able to hear. How many other kids in the crowd are feeling as freaked out as I am right now?
“Sure glad I wasn’t there that night,” Aubrey says beside me.
“Yeah, lucky you. My parents still don’t know I went.”
I crane my neck, trying to figure out where Ellie is sitting. These days I try to avoid her as much as possible. But whenever she “needs” me, I have to be on call. I spot her one row back, sitting stiffly, hands clutching the armrest. When she catches my eye, she gives me a knowing smirk. I look away quickly.
At the podium Mr. Sinclair clears his throat.
“Thank you, students, for welcoming Ms. Stitski into our school. As you recall from last June, she and her family endured an unthinkable tragedy. She wishes to address the school today to express some of her ongoing concerns. I hope you’ll all listen with respect and be brave enough to step forward if you feel you can help her in any possible way. Ms. Stitski.”
A tall, slim woman crosses the stage to the microphone. She’s dressed like a Banana Republic model, in a taupe jacket with rolled-up cuffs and black slacks. Her dark, cropped hair has a flash of grey along one side. She’s a pretty lady, Kit’s mom, but there’s something else there, too. A shadowy veil seems to cover her features, concealing who she was before all this happened at the start of the summer.
She stands and stares out for a moment, the auditorium crammed with students from grades nine to twelve. I know from my experience in theatre arts that she can’t see much; the bright stage lights are practically blinding. But she might as well be looking straight into my eyes. And reading my mind.
“I’m glad you could all be here today, and I thank Mr. Sinclair for permitting me to speak to you.” A dramatic pause. She’s obviously good at this. “I’m sure you all remember my son Kristopher, or Kit, as everyone called him, and the disturbing circumstances of his death.”
Something twists in my gut as she says those words. I half-wish I could crawl under my seat to hide. Her voice is controlled, measured, as if she’s standing in front of a court room addressing judge and jury.
“The coroner’s inquest deemed it ‘death by misadventure.’ That verdict has been haunting me ever since. Because I don’t agree. Something else happened that night. He did not wind up in the water by accident. I know that someone out there, one of the many who were at the quarry that night, knows more. Withholding that information could make you an accessory to a crime. It’s in your best interest to step forward, and tell the police what you know to help all of us, especially Kit’s brother and me, find some closure once and for all.”
“God,” Aubrey whispers. “She almost looks like she’s about to cry, doesn’t she, Clem?”
“Wouldn’t you?” I say, blinking back tears and clenching my fists.
“I’m trusting someone will do the right thing, to help the rest of us heal.” Ms. Stitski’s neck tendons are standing out now. Her face has become a tight mask. “So many of you loved Kit, I’m sure, but a few of you were responsible for being cruel to him in the past. Teasing, bullying, call it what you want. But trust me, I know who you are. If you had anything to do with this …” she almost chokes on her words, “then step forward. And clear your conscience once and for all.”
With that, Ms. Stitski abruptly spins and walks off the stage into the wings.
Instantly, the room fills with the buzz of a thousand bees. Mr. Sinclair hurries to the mic.
“Do your talking once you’re outside. It’s only ten minutes before last bell, but you’re all dismissed for the day. Please leave in an orderly manner, and enjoy your weekend.”
“She’s talking about Spencer, isn’t she?” Aubrey says, trailing me up the aisle to the exit. “I’ve heard stories. Kids are saying there was some sort of fight between him and Kit that night. Remember how he always gave Kit a hard time in middle school?”
Kids are saying. The thought is like a laser beam burning a hole in my brain. Who is saying? Who knows what?
Who’d believe anything — everyone.
“Yeah, but that was then and this is now,” I tell her. “A lot has changed since then. And anyway, who knows what really happened that night? Maybe we’ll never know for sure.”
I can only hope.
Ms. Stitski is a lawyer at a local law firm. She knows how to dig out the truth, and she’s on a mission.
The thought of what she might be able to find out leaves me almost breathless. Especially with Ellie keeping my secret.
And never letting me forget it.
“Pizza’s here, Clementine,” Mom calls from the kitchen that evening.
I’ve been hiding out in my room since I got home from school. Told my folks I was exhausted from a busy week. That’s a bit of a stretch. I’m actually exhausted from a busy mind — one that won’t allow me to think straight or concentrate on important things, like school work and theatre arts. Oh, and getting Jake Harcourt to notice me.
The way things are going, this is the new normal. Because guilt will not stop gnawing at me like a hungry rat. After this long, I almost had myself convinced that I was in the clear, that it was almost over. As if. But seeing Ms Stitski today made me realize that it will never end.
I force myself to walk to the kitchen and look happy about an order-in pizza.
“It’s your favourite kind, honey,” Mom says when I peek under the lid. “Lots of veggies and no anchovies.”
“Thanks,” I say. But the smell turns my stomach.
I take one piece and sit at the table. Zach’s inhaling multiple slices in front of the TV screen, playing a video game. So I’m stuck alone with Mom and Dad, and no kid-brother buffer to distract them. Not that it’s really necessary. Mom’s watching a video on her iPhone and laughing; Dad’s reading something on his tablet and frowning.
I nibble my pizza slice and chew quietly, half-hoping they won’t feel obligated to question me about my day the way a lot of parents would. But also half-hoping they might.
What I definitely need most right now is a friendly ear. I need someone to talk to, to help me figure stuff out about Ellie and every awful thing that’s been going on between us. That used to be Mom — I used to be able to tell her anything. But this time, I’m too ashamed, too afraid of what she’ll think of me. Plus she never seems to have much time to listen to me anymore.
Come to think of it, neither does Dad. They’re almost always lost in their own virtual worlds — when they aren’t stressing out about work, being super-busy teachers.
They’re no worse than Zach and me, though. A family of techno-geeks who seem to rarely share actual face time. I’ve spent the last four months in misery, wallowing in my guilt, and they haven’t even looked up from their screens long enough to notice. Might as well talk to the wall most of the time.
Because for sure the wall would make a better listener than my parents.
Loughead’s mystery is a short and fast-paced one, and the accessible language makes it particularly well suited to reluctant readers.
A nice page-turning mystery, The Secrets We Keep neatly captures the angst and emotion of adolescence, while highlighting the increasing isolation of the digital age.
A welcome addition to library and classroom collections of Young Adult quick reads.
The excitement in The Secrets We Keep starts on the first page and pulls you through to the last paragraph. Romance, loyalty, guilt, and suspense are all here, as is humour and a recurring ghost. Don’t start late in the evening unless you are prepared to lose a night’s sleep.
Peter Edwards, author of The Biker's Brother, Business or Blood, and Unrepentant
Has both the strong plot and character development to hook teen readers, but its strong message about connecting and disconnecting, both personally and digitally, makes the story one worth reading and heeding.
Can Lit for Little Canadians
Deb Loughead has a good ear for teenage dialogue and an astute understanding of how peer pressure can manipulate kids into doing things they know are wrong.
Quill & Quire