________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005


Secrets: Stories.

Marthe Jocelyn, ed.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2005.
175 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 0-88776-723-0.

Subject Headings:
Short stories, Canadian (English).
Short stories, American.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Darleen Golke.

*** /4

Reviewed from uncorrected proofs.


Mama told me to lie.

She said it would be best, when we got to Peach Hill, if I practiced the family talent of deception; I was likely to hear more if I appeared to be simple. So, I perfected the ability to cross one eye while my mouth stayed open. I breathed out with a faint wheeze so that my lips dried up, or even crusted.

Once in a while, I'd add a twitch.

People would take a first look and shiver with disgust. Then they'd look again and think, Oh the poor thing, thank the heavens she's not mine. And then they'd ignore me. I got the two looks and became invisible. That's when I went to work.

People will say anything in front of an idiot.

I gathered gossip and brought it home to Mama. She put it to use in little ways, giving it back to the very same people, only shaped differently and in exchange for money. Lots of money, over time.

I thought of us as gardeners. I prepared the soil; Mama decided on the arrangements and planted the seeds. The customers decided if it was flowers, vegetables, or weeds they were gong to harvest.

That's the kind of thinking that floated through my brain while I was trying to act daft. (From “How It Happened at Peach Hill.")


This slender collection's 12 stories written by women and featuring female protagonists "explore one of the irresistible facets of human nature, the fact that everyone has a secret," Jocelyn asserts in the introduction. Some secrets involve outright lies, others utilize omissions or manipulations of truth; all illustrate the arbitrary nature of secrets. Establishing the theme that permeates the succeeding selections, in the opening story, "Father's Day," Katie cons Sister Rose into agreeing to a "little secret . . . Not a lie, just a secret." Like Katie's "secret lies" some stories maintain a light-hearted tone revealing the relatively harmless massaging of truth. Blatant deceit in "How It Happened at Peach Hill" finds the protagonist trapped by the deception her own mother demands and must cleverly use her duplicitous skills to extricate herself from the snare.

     However, some secrets have a darker side and challenge the young people who happen upon them. A much-admired teacher reveals his darker nature, seducing his son's girlfriend in "Can You Keep a Secret." "Uncle Cory's Smile" and his "differences" make him the target of school bullies who mock him and call him dummy. To Mom in "Dream Girls," houseguest Sonia is "everything a girl should be - dainty and a real little lady" and "any mother's dream - polite, helpful and so charming." Dee Dee sees the other side of Sonia acknowledged by her father who expresses his gratitude for a reprieve from his " demanding and difficult" daughter." Cyndy in "The Thunderbird Swing" uses her knowledge of how Uncle Ted brutalized Jimmy causing permanent brain damage to blackmail the abuser into financially supporting his victim.

     Secrets are part of family dynamics; parents routinely keep secrets ostensibly to protect their children while children gradually develop their own covert behaviours. Katie fabricates a "passed away" status for her father, the drunk who ironically insists she admit she's "Daddy's little con," forcing her to lie "just .once . more." Susan's "Simple Summer" gets complicated when, bored and missing her best friend, she participates in a shoplifting spree that leaves her with "sick feelings." Ruthie, forced into a new school environment by her parents’ separation, grumbles at Mom's bland "I Don't Have to Tell You Everything" about her reasons for breaking up the family, yet learns "to sidestep personal questions" with classmates. Accidentally, Rosalind gains "The Gift" of discovering a sister whose existence her parents have kept secret. When Emily adapts "The Golden Darters" to earrings, Dad, who had insisted she join him in fly-tying, acts as if she "were a trusted associate who had committed some treacherous and unspeakable act." Both "The Tale of A Gambling Grandma" and "Road Trip" feature young girls and their special relationship with grandmothers.

     With several award nominees among the chapter books, picture books, and historical fiction to her credit, Jocelyn recently earned accolades for the non-fiction account of London's Foundling Hospital, A Home for Foundlings. In Secrets, she augments the stories with a "Meet the Authors" section which provides some insights into the women whose tales she includes.

     Loosely organized around variations on the secrecy theme with settings both in Canada and the United States, the selections provide choices for young readers who will find familiar feelings and attitudes among the girls whose experiences they share in the stories.


Darleen Golke, a librarian "between assignments," lives in Abbotsford, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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