When I found a copy of Our Little Secret somewhere near the bottom of my reading pile, it took me a while to remember how it got there. I never purchase new books from this particular publisher (for reasons which, out of politeness, I will leave out of this blog post,) so it would have most likely come via a secondhand book seller. And then it came back to me. A while ago I had a certain amount of credit which had to be spent within a certain timeframe from a local secondhand bookstore and I couldn't find anything. I eventually picked this one up because it was written by a South Australian and appeared to be a reasonably intelligent young adult novel. Anyway, Our Little Secret has more or less sat at the bottom of my to-read pile for more than three years, until now. And what did I get?
An intelligently written, well-researched and well-told cautionary tale for young adults and, dare I say it, their parents.
Edwina is a teenager who lives in a country town. She does not get along well with her mother and her father is distant. Like many girls her age she reads teen magazines and believes in the notion of romantic relationships. Over time, she is groomed by Tom, a twenty-five year old from their church, who wants to keep their relationship a 'secret'. (Read, he wants to use her for sexual purposes, though Edwina does not understand this at first.) Edwina's response--a mix of shame and confusion--comes across as quite realistic as do her reasons for not telling her parents. I also think the author did a brilliant job with her portrayal of scumbag Tom. One part that really rang true, I felt, was that Tom actually bragged about his "relationship" with Edwina to some other boys from Edwina's school. Aside from proving that Tom was an arsehole, it also shows how Tom sought to pass off his guilt at what he had done. He was trying to convince himself, as well as others, that Edwina wanted to be used this way and was the instigator. (He's basically projecting his desires on to the victim.) This is another way that men like Tom get away with their actions. Edwina's confusion leads to her making some poor choices throughout the novel--such as wanting to be seen with the popular boys, even when deep down she knows it isn't a good idea. Anyway, after another tragic event befalls the town, Edwina realises that she must speak up and gets some sensible advice from one of her schoolteachers.
As I said, this one is a well-researched cautionary tale. It's probably a good one for parents to read as well.