All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Secrets We Keep by Shirley Patton

on April 13, 2018

The Secrets We Keep
Shirley Patton
Harlequin AUS
2018, 312p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A mother’s secret, a father’s betrayal, a town on the edge…

When social worker Aimee arrives in the mining town of Kalgoorlie, she is ready for a fresh start. Her colleagues Lori and Paddy seem friendly, and she is also drawn to one of her cases: the Steele family, whose future looks particularly bleak. But Aimee has a dark secret and as the past reaches out towards her once more, she realises that somehow her secret is connected to this unfamiliar but harshly beautiful town and its inhabitants.

As she strengthens her ties with the local community — especially with the vibrant Lori, stoical Kerry and wise Agnes — she finds herself questioning earlier decisions. Can she reveal her secret, even if it is not hers alone to share?

A compelling novel of the transcendental love of children and the truth’s unwillingness to stay hidden.

It was the setting that made me want to pick up this book. Kalgoorlie is not somewhere I come across too often and I realised after a couple of pages that it’s set during the 1980s which was an interesting time. Aimee has just arrived to take up a social worker position. She’s definitely running from something but the tight knit community embraces her and she finds herself making strong connections. Lori from her office becomes a great friend, inviting Aimee into her large and boisterous Italian family, making sure that Aimee always has someone to spend special days with. Aimee throws herself into her casework as well, becoming close to the Steele family – dad Paul, mother Kerry and daughter Amber. They will need a lot of help and support over the coming months and it will be up to Aimee to provide much of it.

In the big picture, the mid-1980s is not that long ago. But for some instances in this book, it feels much, much longer ago in history. It’s set around the beginning of things like environmental concern and mining regulation. The location also allows the author to explore the treatment of local Indigenous communities and the evolution of attitudes towards them and their rights. They have some passionate advocates in this novel, including Aimee herself as she is given clues about what is happening and why in one of the communities. Aimee tries to learn one of the local languages and communicate with the Indigenous population and takes the opportunities presented to visit some of the communities and learn as much as she can. I really enjoyed Aimee moving to take up the new job and getting herself settled in Kalgoorlie. She develops a good rapport with the Steele family which I thought was great and having the point of view of Kerry Steele gave the reader a lot more insight into their situation and what they were facing. It was a tragic position to be in, complicated by a secret that the Steeles also had that they didn’t really want to face but were given a bit of a timeline where they felt they had to. I also really enjoyed the strong friendship that developed between Aimee and her colleague Lori, who had lived her whole life in Kalgoorlie. Lori was from a somewhat traditional Italian family but she hadn’t gone that traditional route of getting married when she finished school and had children, like her sisters. Her family were big and loud and super fun and they added a lot of colour and character to the story each time Aimee was in their company.

As well as the narratives of Aimee and Kerry, we also get Aggie, an elderly lady who reads tea leaves. Although I liked Aggie and her close relationship with Jack, her next door neighbour (Jack, Aggie and Aggie’s late husband Frank had been friends for decades) I have to admit that the story surrounding the tea leaves wasn’t really my sort of thing. I could kind of get on board when it was just the tea leaves as a bit of….fun at a girls night type thing but then it goes quite a bit deeper with Agnes noticing that someone has the same gift she does and teaching them to harness it. It becomes quite a large part of the story and although I did enjoy the bond that built up between Agnes and the person she’d designated her successor, the actual fortune-telling/second sight/whatever you want to call it with spirit guides and chakras just isn’t something I’m particularly interested in or enjoy reading about. I ended up skimming some of those sections. Perhaps I’m too much of a cynic for that part of the storyline but I definitely found it hard to really sink into it.

I guessed part of Aimee’s dark secret quite early on, she alludes to it several times. As unpalatable as it is, it’s pretty clear what she is referring to and I definitely understood why she’d gone to Kalgoorlie and her motivations for being in such a remote place. What she has been through is very painful and traumatising and she makes reference several times throughout the book that she probably needs more help, or to talk to someone, in order to process it, especially when she realises that her time in Kalgoorlie has actually brought her closer to her secret, not further away, in some respects. Aimee was a very strong character, to come through all she had endured – it was her motivation for becoming a social worker and it was obvious she did everything she could for her cases, often probably going above and beyond. I enjoyed her journey in the Kalgoorlie, which was in some ways, quite bittersweet. The decision she made at the end of the novel felt the same way – truly a way forward but not without some pain.

An enjoyable read with a really interesting setting.


Book #68 of 2018




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