I had been saving the ARC I received of Mitali Perkins’ new YA novel Secret Keeper for a treat and because I thought that a review closer to the time of publication would be more helpful to readers. In December I succumbed, and read it.
Such a powerful story! It’s something of a romance, and I so wanted everything to turn out just like the fairy tales. And yet I felt as I read that it couldn’t really have a traditional happy ending and that it couldn’t have been written in any other way. Secret Keeper is a tale of love and loss, of traditional family and of new ways and mores creeping into and disrupting the old conventions. It’s a story that bridges cultures and creates understanding and makes even WASPs like me feel a twinge of identification with the characters and their very human situations.
The main character of the novel is sixteen year old Asha, the younger of two daughters in the Gupta family. As the story opens, Asha, her sister Reet, and their mother are on a train headed for a visit of indeterminate length with their Baba’s family in Calcutta. Baba (Father) himself is in America looking for work, having lost his job as a result of the economic difficulties in India in the early 1970’s, the time period for the book. Asha is not sure how the small family will manage to fit into her uncle’s household in Calcutta even for the short amount of time she expects them to stay before Baba send for them to join him in the U.S. Asha’s grandmother lives with Asha’s uncle’s very traditional family, and the three women will be three more mouths to feed, unable to make much, if any, contribution to the welfare of the family. As events unfold, Asha depends on her diary, nicknamed Secret Keeper, to hold her thoughts and dreams and to keep her sane in a tension-filled household.
Girls, especially those who are trying to balance responsibilities to family and to themselves, will find Asha to be a sympathetic character and a role model. When she is faced with a crisis, she makes the best decision she can both for herself and for her small family, and even though her solution to the family’s problems is imperfect and open to criticism, it is the difficulty of her decision that makes the family strong again and renews their bonds, bonds that have been stretched to the breaking point.
I really think that this book is Ms. Perkins’ best book to date, an exploration of cultural norms and changing roles, of responsibility to self and to family, and of flawed but loving answers to difficult issues. I highly recommend Secret Keeper, available in bookstores and from Amazon starting today. (Click on the book cover to order from Amazon.)
Book Embargo: “It was a beautiful book.. (haven’t I said that already?) But it really was. The family dynamics, with the father gone to America, the mother and two sisters left to live with relatives. The money problems, the Indian culture, it was all so beautifully written and described.”