The Plot: Miranda — Rand — is the good daughter. Xanda — dead Xanda, whose name isn’t spoken aloud by her family — was the bad daughter, the daughter of late nights and fast boys and cars, until the accident that took her life five years ago. Xanda had secrets that Rand could only wonder at; Xanda had a life that seemed exotic and wonderful. Who Xanda was, and her death, has shaped Rand and fractured her family. Rand was twelve then; she is now the age Xanda was.
Five years later, Rand has a secret of her own.
This secret will force Rand and her family to finally look at the truth about themselves, about Xanda, and about her death.
The Good: Rand tells the story, and Jenna Lamia, the audiobook narrator, does a terrific job of conveying Rand’s confusion and hopes and fears. The reader does not always get the whole story. For example, in Rand’s eyes, Xanda seems the perfect older sister: perfect in a “she’s too cool to live” way. This, however, is not the whole story, not the whole Xanda, and glimpses of the real sister bleed through Rand’s thoughts and memories.
Rand broke my heart. No, that’s not right. It’s not that Rand broke my heart; honestly, at times I just wanted to give her a shake and say “snap out of it!” (More on that later). What broke my heart was just how many people failed Rand, especially the people that Rand should have been able to rely on. It would have been nice if the people in her life, her parents and friends, had supported her, been there for her, helped her. But, then, this would have been a different book. Instead, it’s a book about secrets and the damage they do, especially the secrets about ourselves that we keep from ourselves. Rand may think her secret is her pregnancy, but the real secret is she’s not being honest with herself about her choices, the choices she made in living up to the image of a dead girl.
Rand keeps much to herself, not in an unfriendly way but in a not sharing what she’s thinking or feeling way. Maybe that is her nature. Maybe it’s because her mother raised her children with a “be careful what the neighbors will think” attitude, so Rand keeps her true self secret so that the neighbors will only see her outer self. Whatever the reason, Rand often stays silent when she could speak up and should speak up. Take, for instance, her boyfriend Kamram and her pregnancy. She loves him; she doesn’t know how to tell him. So she doesn’t. She delays, and delays, and delays. And because of that, she also distances herself from him. On the one hand, she tells the reader about her love for him and their wonderful relationship, and on the other, Rand also says it’s been almost a week since she’s spoken to him. Rand doesn’t seem to be able to put the pieces together, that either she and Kamram are not the couple she thinks they are, or that she is sending him mixed signals about what she thinks and feels. He’s not a mind-reader, I wanted to tell her. Thinking about him, loving him, wanting him, is not enough if you’re not calling him. I understood why she didn’t; I understood why she delayed. Understanding Rand just made it that much worse.
It would have been easy for Tell Me A Secret to be all about how family and friends fail Rand. Tell Me A Secret takes the harder road, the better road, by making the failures mutual. This is not a sob-fest about poor, pregnant Rand (even though I did cry at times because of all that happened to poor, pregnant Rand. Hey, I don’t have a heart of stone!). Rand doesn’t always realize it, and the reader may take some time for recognition to sink in, but Rand isn’t innocent, and not just in getting pregnant or delaying telling anyone. She does a few things that really shifts the perception of what happened, so that some of what her friends did and did not do make more sense. And here is what I liked best about Tell Me A Secret (if one can say “like” about something so sad): people fail Rand, and Rand fails herself, and Rand fails others, and it’s an endless cycle, it seems, of expectations and being let down. It would be nice if people were always kind and compassionate and understanding. It would be nice if people could see beyond their own needs and hurts and wants. But that’s not the world that Rand lives in; and I’m sure that for many readers, it’s not their world, either. By the end, Rand doesn’t let these failings define herself; she doesn’t let it control her future.