Clem knows something about her friend Kit, an autistic boy who died at a high school field party. No one who was there that night is telling the truth about what happened, and Kit’s grieving mother is determined to discover how and why her son died. Clem is afraid of the consequences if she reveals what she knows, and she’s being blackmailed by her former best friend, Ellie (who also has a secret about Kit’s death). Ellie forces Clem to lie for her so she can spend time with her new bad-boy love interest. As the web of deceit grows bigger and more intricate, Clem feels increasingly isolated and desperate. She teams up with Jake, a boy she has a crush on, who also has something to hide about that night, and together they begin to unravel the mystery of how Kit died.
The Secrets We Keep is a book about taking responsibility. Clem slowly realizes that the only way to be free of her guilt is to tell the truth. Her courage in speaking up enables others to come forward and help Kit’s mother find some resolution.
Author 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. She keeps the suspense building steadily as Clem tries to cope with her inner turmoil and follow the clues to the truth. Happily, Clem’s budding romance with Jake and her affectionate bickering with her younger brother offer some relief from the ever-present shadow of Kit’s death.
A subplot about electronic devices seems somewhat contrived: Clem encourages her family to conquer their addiction to their cellphones and they immediately go along with it, which seems unlikely. Otherwise, the intense story rings true, and young people struggling with keeping difficult secrets from their parents and friends will find much to relate to.