Published by Tundra on 2014-04-08
Genres: Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Source: ARC borrowed thru Around the World ARC Tours
Teenagers in an English boarding school tell their very different stories. What they hide is who they are, and who they hope to be. Can be described as a literary Gossip Girls set in a Quaker boarding school in 1970s Yorkshire. Or, in terms of format, a sort of A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD for teens. Americans Jenny and her brother Tom are off to England. Tom to university to dodge the Vietnam draft, Jenny to be the new girl at Illington Hall, which the students call Ill Hall. This is Jenny's chance to finally be special and stand out, so when she arrives she tells everybody a lie. But in the small world of Ill Hall, everyone has secrets. Jenny pretends she has a boyfriend. Robbie and Luke pretend they don't. Brenda won't tell what happened with the school doctor. Percy won't tell about his famous dad. Oona lies to everyone. Penelope lies only to herself. Deftly told from multiple points of view in various narrative styles, including letters and movie screenplays, What We Hide ia a provocative, honest, often funny and always intriguing look at secrets.
~ My review notes are broken down chapter by chapter, since there were so many characters, so for these little dashes, I’m going to start off with one dash per character to avoid confusing the hell out of us both, okay?
~ Jenny- American, and I’m assuming she’s a Quaker since her parents send her to a Quaker boarding school in England in order to help her feel less… complacent in her brother Tom’s draft dodging bid (their parents felt that plain old college in either the US or Canada wouldn’t be safe enough in case the draft no longer made allowances for college). When Jenny gets to boarding school, she tells a teensy lie that Matt, her brother’s friend who recently went to Vietnam and a boy Jenny’s had a crush on for a long time, is really her boyfriend. This complicates everything, and Jenny has to deal all semester with her lie, and her pot head of a brother.
~ Tom doesn’t actually get any of his own chapters, but I wish we had seen his struggle. Was he a major pothead because he felt guilt over Matt’s going to Vietnam, or is he just slacker prone? I did like the ending, with him and Jenny finally connecting and leaning on one another.
~ Robbie- A local teen boy who doesn’t go to the boarding school but is dealing with his discovery that he’s a gay man. A gay man with a skinhead brother and friends in the 1970s. A gay man who falls for a Luke, who goes to the posh Quaker boarding school in town. Robbie is probably my favorite character in the book, he’s trying so hard to hide his truth, to not be a loser like his brother. Also, his first kiss with a boy was definitely the hottest moment of the book.
~ Luke- Robbie’s boyfriend. He’s attractive and aloof, and while his sister Kirsten suspects about Luke’s true sexual identity, he keeps it hidden and keeps himself apart from the others. Which of course makes him attractive to some girls. And he does try to be straight. I love how he stands by Robbie, even after the bad thing happens and he should have distanced himself for his own safety. I would have loved to see more of Luke, but he only gets the one chapter, but what little I read, and how Robbie sees him, is enough to make me like him.
~ Brenda- she’s a day student/scholarship student at the boarding school, and she pretty much runs herself ragged taking care of her father and her older sister’s children (her sister had one kid with Robbie’s brother- neither sibling is particularly likeable). Brenda was another favorite. Her storyline involved a overly handsy doctor at the school, who just happens to be the father of a boy she begins seeing. It’s hard to gauge at first how the molestation affected her, but as her story continues it’s obvious to see that it has a huge impact on her. Because this is the 1970’s (or hell, I guess it could be today, right?), Brenda handles the abuse on her own. However, she’s so brilliant and my midnight moment involves her.
~ Nico- he’s terribly attractive and he’s a bit of the campus stud. His mother is a famous writer, and feminist icon, whose recent novel is entitled Raising Nicky. So of course this deeply embarrasses Nico, and he’s rudely confronted with his mother’s reputation and history when an attractive new teacher, Amy (all the teachers go by their first names, which is a Quaker thing to do but can be very confusing to readers who have to remind themselves who the teachers and who the students are- but a minor complaint overall), who is a BIG FAN of his mother suddenly wants Nico’s class to study a story by his mom. I connected least with Nico, because in spite of all this storyline, he spends quite a bit of his chapters trying to hook up with Jenny and Amy. Still, I enjoyed his narration, I just wanted to dig deeper.
~ Percy- he’s kind of an enigma, but I loved the fact that his mixed heritage isn’t really an issue in 1970’s England. His first couple of chapters consist of movie titles and a screenplay he’s working on, but it’s the identity of his father that Percy tends to hide. That and his crush on Jenny- but we mostly see that through the eyes of others. It’s a small thing, but his pining for her really satisfied my need for romance. It was kind of gross though, because in view of recent events and the fact that Percy is a bit of a nerd and his famous father kind of stutters, I couldn’t help but picture Percy’s dad as Woody Allen. Try not to do that.
~ Oona- her chapters are letters to her friend, Sarah- Nico’s ex, who moved back to Canada. It’s clear that Oona fancies Nico, and it’s also apparent that she’s quite the liar. Also, Oona might be insane. Her motivations and story aren’t really resolved though.
~ Penelope- she’s kind of the bad girl of the school. She’s fairly flirty and… experienced? She acts out and does horrible things, but her secret is eating away at her. She almost has to inflict pain and chaos in order not to burst from the pressure. Her actions lead to a bad thing happening, and while I understand her character, I still can’t quite make myself like her. There is hope for Pen, but we’re going to need more than one short book to sort her out!
~ I really enjoyed this book, so much more than I thought I would. I honestly only signed up for the arc tour because it was set in a boarding school. I was expecting it to be kind of bad though, once I realized that it was set in the 1970’s. The cover is a little cheesy (what is up with that hair?), but the writing is smooth. Maybe because I was listening to a Maeve Binchy novel at the time, and Binchy always features a large cast of characters, but I felt the style was similar.
~ Despite the amount of times I mentioned the word Quaker in my review, this book isn’t about the religion. It’s mentioned in an offhand way, but it made me realize that I haven’t read a book about Quakers since The Friendly Persuasion back in high school (and that was only because I was on the Reading Team). Quakers are kind of cool.
~ I don’t know that this book will work for everyone. I liked the flow, I liked the brief glimpses, although I was left with wanting more in some character’s stories. Even when Jocelyn didn’t go super in depth with a character, it was easy to get the feel of who they were.
~ I don’t think this is a series, but I would gobble it up like Pac-Man if it were.
*I’m only going to list the characters that didn’t get their own chapters:
Tom- Jenny’s brother and a draft dodger. He’s pretty much only going to college to avoid going to Vietnam. Of the two siblings, it is younger sister Jenny who seems the more mature.
Matt- Tom’s best friend, serving over in Vietnam. I really wanted to see more of his relationship with both Tom and Jenny, but it just wasn’t there.
Richard and Isobel Woods- the Headmaster and his assistant wife.
Kirsten- popular sister, friend to Penelope and Jenny. She lives the ideal teen life, although she purposely skirts around the topic of her brother.
Hairy Mary- the school’s German cook.
Dr. Stern- attractive school doctor, a bit too hands on.
Michael- Dr. Stern’s son, also Brenda’s love interest.
Simon- Robbie’s super promiscuous, awful human being brother.
Kathy- Brenda’s sister, uses her little sis as a babysitter all the time, not a particularly nice person.
Both my midnight moments come courtesy of Brenda- first what Brenda discovers in the loo, and then what she says to Dr. Stern at the end. I would have been happy to read a whole book or two about Brenda.
Stop the Clock:
There’s a lot going on in this book, ranging from minor secrets, to harmful ones. Social issues like war and homosexuality and molestation are explored with varying degrees of depth. It’s too short, and it leaves you wanting more, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Marthe Jocelyn— Website |Marthe Jocelyn
What We Hide gets a Midnight Book rating of: