________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 1. . . .September 4, 2015


The Unquiet Past. (Secrets).

Kelley Armstrong.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
245 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0654-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0657-3 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0658-0 (epub). A “Secrets” Boxed Set is available for $79.95. ISBN 978-1-4598-1082-2.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Crystal Sutherland.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



All her life, she’d listened to the other girls playing Who Am I?

I’m a foreign princess, locked away here to keep me safe until I’m eighteen.

I’m the child of international spies, who feared for my life and will come for me when it’s safe.

I’m an alien, beamed down to Earth until my eighteenth birthday, when my programming will trigger and I’ll take over the world, mwa-ha-ha.

Admittedly, that last one was Tess’s. It made the other girls laugh and tell her she was crazy.


Even thinking that made her stomach clench. A word shouldn’t have so much power. She’d tried to rob it of that power by courting it. She’d do and say outrageous things, and the other girls would call her crazy, and she’d be fine with it, because it wasn’t the bad, kind of madness. The kind she feared. The kind that nudged at her when she awoke from her dreams. The kind that dug its claws into her back when she saw…what she saw.

That was the answer she wanted. Why did she have the dreams? Why did she have the…rest? Where did they come from? Did they make her crazy? Would they make her crazy eventually?

She clutched the box tighter. Forget that for now. Forget answers. There was something else in here she craved more.



When the orphanage, the only home Tess has ever known, burns to the ground, the administrators have some tough decisions to make. Because they know there is no money to rebuild, they decide they will find homes for the youngest wards and release the older children ahead of schedule. The orphanage has been holding a clue to Tess’s past to be handed over when she was ready to leave the school: an out-of- service phone number, and an address in Montreal. Curious and with few options, Tess sets off to find out where she came from, who her family was, and how she came to live at the orphanage.

      As Tess gets closer to what may be birthplace, she begins to see what she tells herself are just ghosts. The more she sees, the more she’s convinced that she’s not seeing ghosts but is slipping into and witnessing the past. It becomes more difficult to tell what’s real, and Tess can’t help but think the visions connect her past and present lives. Before working out the connection, Tess gets more adventure than even she could have hoped for. From strangers helping her barter in French, learning that not all strangers who appear friendly can be trusted, and also learning when it’s safe to trust, Tess learns a lot about herself and her past.

      When Tess arrives at the address the orphanage provided, she’s greeted by an abandoned house that looks undeniably haunted. It soon becomes evident the building is home to more than ghosts: a teenage boy, Jackson, has been squatting there and isn’t keen on sharing the space with Tess, regardless of her reasons for being there. However, once the two teens realize they’re both too stubborn to back down, they come to a compromise – both will stay, but they’ll mind their own business and stay clear of each other. The arrangement doesn’t last long when Tess’s visions intensify and she feels she has no choice but to trust Jackson with her theory about the building. She’s positive it was an asylum where experiments were carried out on humans, including her parents. Although Jackson initially thinks she’s crazy, evidence builds and, with his parents’ assistance, he and Tess locate a professor who might be able to help. His connection is much deeper than Jackson and Tess had thought, however, and he is ready to go to great lengths to stop Tess and Jackson from exposing his involvement and his connection to the man who helped Tess buy her scarf at the beginning of her adventure.

      Tess’s spunk, determination, and sense of adventure will turn readers into allies immediately. It’s hard not to root for someone who has nothing and is ready to pursue any possible clue at all costs. Tess and Jackson are forced to examine how and why they judge others, and, in doing so, they help each other better understand themselves. Armstrong does an excellent job navigating difficult issues, including racism and mental illness. Tess and Jackson work to uncover the truth and bring to light the injustices that patients, including Tess’s mother, endured at the institution through human experimentation.

      While The Unquiet Past is a compelling story that’s difficult to put down, the ending is disappointing. Although Tess learns about a bit of her past and the experiments her mother endured, there are a number of loose ends that may leave readers frustrated: Tess is suddenly through with looking for answers and ensuring people are held accountable for their actions when she and Jackson realize they’re in love and a ‘happily ever after’ ending replaces answering questions that have made the story so compelling. A different ending would have earned the book a perfect 4/4, and some readers will be able to overlook the unanswered questions; for others, knowing the characters have the answers but won’t share them could ruin the book. The pace and twists, however, make it worth reading.


Crystal Sutherland is a MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate living in Halifax, NS.

The Unquiet Past. (Secrets).

Kelley Armstrong. Narrated by Gabrielle Vaughn.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
6.5 hours, CD (5 discs) & mp3, $29.95 (CD), $19.95 (mp3).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1088-4 (CD), ISBN 978-1-4598-1089-1 (mp3).

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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