***I received a copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours for promotional purposes in exchange for an honest review.***
The Secrets We Kept by Lily Velez
Published: November 8th, 2015 by Blue Typewriter Press
Genres: Young adult, contemporary romance
Trigger Warnings: Physical abuse, discussion of suicide, death, abortion
Pages: 268 pgs.
One year. That’s how long it’s been since childhood sweethearts Sully Graham and Cadence Gilbertson broke up, since one adoption and one out-of-state move turned their worlds upside down.
Suddenly, Cadence is back in New York City, but something’s different about her. The light in her eyes, the music in her laughter, the warmth in her smile—all of those things have entirely vanished. In their place stand the makings of a girl Sully can’t even begin to recognize, much less understand.
Still, despite the collective history of heartbreak between them, he’s convinced he can win her trust again, and he’s committed to proving the invincibility of their love no matter what it takes.
But Cadence is quietly harboring secrets of her own. Dark secrets. Ugly secrets. Secrets that could break a person. And though broken herself and unbearably lonely, she’s determined to protect Sully from her terrible, biting truths. Even if it means locking him out of her life forever.
The only problem is it seems her heart hasn’t quite received the memo. One glimpse of him is all it takes for her to trip into familiar (and, she’ll admit, addictive) feelings that threaten to all but consume her. Now her biggest fear is that her secrets will begin to slowly unravel one by one…long before Sully’s resolve ever does.
The Secrets We Kept is a moving story about first love, friendship, and forgiveness, and the enduring bonds that forever connect us and give us our strength.
Lily Velez has been writing stories since she was six years old. Not much has changed since then. She still prefers the written word and her overactive imagination over the ‘real world’ (though to be fair, her stories no longer feature talking dinosaurs). A graduate of Rollins College and a Florida native, when she’s not reading or writing, she spends most of her days wrangling up her pit bulls Noah and Luna, planning exciting travel adventures, and nursing her addiction to cheese. All this when she isn’t participating in the extreme sport known as napping.
Take a moment to look up the statistics for depression in children both currently in and aging out of foster care. Let those numbers really sink in so you can sort of get an idea of what it’s like to grow up in a place that really isn’t your own. Maybe you might start to see why, after being separated from their siblings or mistreated by their foster parents, people who grew up in the system don’t really see life with rose-tinted glasses. Bearing all of that in mind, then approach Lily Velez’ debut novel, The Secrets We Kept.
Following the roller coaster love story between Sulligan “Sully” Graham and Cadence Gilbertson, The Secrets We Kept is more than just your average contemporary young adult romance. Cadence and Sully are technically foster siblings who happened to come into each other’s lives in exactly the right time. During their adolescence, together they braved the horrors of their foster home shared with Sully’s biological brother and their other foster siblings. Of course, sharing such close quarters with one another for so long eventually led to a blossoming romance that lasted through long-distances and adoption until, out of nowhere, Cadence cut all communication with her former foster family — including Sully. Now that she’s returned to New York City from California, she seems like she’s a few pieces short of a full puzzle, but it’s up to both of them to put her back together again.
What struck me most about The Secrets We Kept was that masterful way in which Velez told this story. I can’t speak at all to exactly what it’s like to grow up within the foster care system, but the way in which Velez’s prose flowed and created the atmosphere surrounding the story made it easy to get lost in and understand their struggles. Even though there are some time skips between past and present, they’re never used in such a way that leaves the reader scratching their head. I was actually surprised to learn that this was Velez’s first novel, because the way she writes is akin to someone who’s been publishing novels for quite some time. The emotions each character feels — Cadence’s growing anxiety over holding her secret, Sully’s frustration with being locked out, Spencer’s disappointment with being cast away by his brother — are easily palatable; I actually felt as if I were put into their shoes in each scene.
Furthermore, Velez has clearly done her research when it comes to the myriad issues she tackles over the course of the book, and treats them all with the respect and reverence they deserve. For example, the topic of abortion comes up along the way, which is generally approached quite immaturely in most YA novels in that it’s written off entirely as this terrible thing that should never happen. The reality of abortion is that it’s not a decision taken lightly by most people who go through the procedure; that sometimes, it’s a necessity to maintain one’s physical — or, in this case, mental — health. I was impressed with how maturely both the author and the characters handled the topic. I also found the book’s discussion surrounding the maintenance of one’s mental health to be satisfying. I always feel it’s good to actually see characters going through therapy as a means to help themselves instead of dismissing it as something laughable to be ignored.
There’s been a lot of time between my completing this book and writing this review; as much as I want to include some sort of constructive criticism, I cannot bring myself to find anything that warrants it. The Secrets We Kept is, overall, an extremely well-rounded book that deserves the attention and praise I’m sure it’s bound to get now that it’s released. I can’t wait to shout my love for this from the rooftops — or, I guess, social media.
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