Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala

Ever read a book that was much better than the blurb let on? For me, Holly Cupala’s debut Tell Me a Secret outlived every expectation I had of it thanks to a blurb that sounded a bit too convoluted and confused for me. I won’t repaste it here for you, but you can find the blurb on GoodReads. For me, the entire “let go of the past to get on with the future” sounded too cliche, not to mention the fact that it seemed the main character had a secret in a pregnancy. And something about a dead sister haunting her.

But this book gave me much more than I expected.

Rand — Miranda is her given name — drops us into her life five years after the night her sister died. Enter a mother who is an utter control freak about everything and a father who just goes along with mom. Xanda — Alexandra is HER given name — was Rand’s sister and a complete rebel. She did what she wanted when she wanted, no worries about consequences. The night she died, she’d been in the car with her boyfriend Andre, a guy she met through her father and whom her mother thought was nothing but bad news. Maybe he was.

But Rand’s been moving on, living her life a bit in the shadow of her sister. She was always the good kid, but she’d always envied her sister’s carefree manner. When she begins a relationship with Kamran, though, things begin to slip. She’s pregnant. Rand wants to tell Kamran, but the story slips to her friend in a manner that makes it appear that she wants to hurry up and marry Kamran in order to give the baby a normal manner.

But her friend….ain’t her friend.

Soon word spreads that Rand expects Kamran to drop his goals and marry her, and it takes no time for Kamran to drop out of her life. And need I mention what happens when news gets to her mom and dad (who, too, found out through the grapevine, rather than Rand herself)? Let’s just say that perhaps Rand’s life mirrors the life that her sister led before she died.

Tell Me A Secret was more than a pregnant girl story for me. I fell in love with Rand as a character and felt she was fully fleshed. She was sympathetic and each of the punches life dealt her took me back to the experience I had while reading Courtney Summers’s Some Girls Are: my stomach ached, my heart sank, and I had more than one moment when I wanted to just strangle the people in Rand’s life. Rand’s mother in particular had me furious, and while I understood some of her motivations, her attitude toward Rand’s pregnancy and the belief that she should not be allowed a future burned me with rage.

And then the secrets begin unraveling, and the motivations driving the characters became clearer and clearer. Cupala does a marvelous job of building tension in her character development and pushes the plot through this.

Cupala’s book is, for the most part, perfectly paced: Rand’s pregnancy gives readers enough time to find out who she really is while she simultaneously discovers who she is herself. However, post delivery, I struggled with pacing, as it felt at times to drag (which I understood in the context of being within Rand’s mind and situation) and then at times to resolve a little too quickly. We learn in the end that what had been “the truth” about Xanda, as well as the truth about some of the other people in Rand’s life.

There is another part of the book that really resonated with me as a reader, and that was Rand’s engagement with the internet. When she finds out she is pregnant, she seeks solace online in a web forum, where she really discovers who she is. In the midst, she learns about other people and about the challenges others have to overcome in life. At the end of the novel (though for me, I figured it out earlier), we see one of her closest web confidants may be closer to her than she realizes.

Tell Me A Secret will appeal to fans of Courtney Summers, Gail Giles, Lauren Oliver, and other similar writers of heart-wrenching contemporary fiction. There is enough suspense to keep the reader interested without making this an issue novel (which, I assure you, it is NOT, despite the teen pregnancy). I think Cupala has created quite a knockout debut, and I can’t wait to see what she offers next.

Going back to my original statement: when I read the blurb of this book, I was not expecting something so engaging. It seemed like too many elements pulled together with a big “secret” about Rand’s pregnancy. But Rand’s pregnancy is not the secret: the secret has to do with something outside of her and, to an extent, outside of her sister and her death. While Xanda plays a large part in the story, she also doesn’t play a part at all. She’s playing the part in Rand’s mind. And while she does need to let go of the past to move on to the future, I think that line was just a little too nice and shiny for a book that is really anything but.

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