Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Review: Tell Me A Secret by Holly Cupala


It's tough living in the shadow of a dead girl. . .

In the five years since her bad-girl sister Xanda's death, Miranda Mathison has wondered about the secret her sister took to the grave, and what really happened the night she died. Now, just as Miranda is on the cusp of her dreams—a best friend to unlock her sister's world, a ticket to art school, and a boyfriend to fly her away from it all—Miranda has a secret all her own.

When two lines on a pregnancy test confirm her worst fears, Miranda is stripped of her former life. She must make a choice with tremendous consequences and finally face her sister's demons and her own.

In this powerful debut novel, stunning new talent Holly Cupala illuminates the dark struggle of a girl who must let go of her past to find a way into her own future.


Emotional, tumultuous and encapsulating, Tell Me A Secret will slip the reader into Rand ’s world from the start. Cupala has an astounding ability to infuse emotion in even the most simplest of sentences, forming a very palpable bond between the reader and Rand. The overwhelming sense of loneliness, fear and confusion which penetrate much of this novel will pour into the reader.

Pregnant at the start, Rand denies the possibility. Her thought processes and constant deals- if I haven’t started by this event, then I’ll take a test- strike the teenage mindset from the start. Rand ’s intelligence comes across but the immaturity inherent with her age mingles comfortably with it. Her refusal to acknowledge certain situations and turning a blind eye to obvious clues also plays into not only her age but her character. Her reasons for doing things run years back and a large part of the story is Rand coming to terms with everything that’s happened over those years. Through well placed flashbacks, smooth transitions between past and present, and striking scenes, not only is Rand's relationship with Kamram explained but her memories of her sister and the very rocky relationship between Xanda and their mother. Rand's own rebellion, anger, and hurt run deep, spilling out in unexpected places. With each new curve thrown at her, Rand matures a little more and her overall character development is phenomenally handled. Her resistance to some of the changes keeps the reader in the teenage mindset while still holding, overall, a more mature and knowledgeable tone.

Rand’s sense of fear and uncertainty is magnified by her home life, two parents who exist separately in the same house. Torn apart by Xanda's actions and death, Rand ’s house has not provided much haven for her in years. Her mother is overbearing, controlling, and made from steel. Her father is quiet, shouldering far more guilt and burden than he deserves, and seemingly more lost than the mother. Cupala’s bold, strong writing brings both parents to life and I found myself disliking them throughout much of the book. Though their own reasons could be understood, watching Rand ’s struggles made it hard to empathize with them because they were watching it too. In that fact alone, Cupala showcases her writing talent- but she strengths it more when she brings sympathy to these characters at surprising but well placed times.

Delaney is a character likely to be unanimously hated and one thing I admire about this book is that although there are hints of her own motivations, overall, Cupala does not make excuses for her. Rand got involved with her, gave up things for the friendship, and is learning to live with the outcome. This is a driving force of much of the book but the constant presence, even when she isn’t physically there, of Delaney is strong. This is a well crafted character, one meant to be hated and blamed. Cupala pulls this off but still manages to dissuade some of the reader’s dislike by the end in how she not only develops Rand and matures her narrator, but in the events and focus towards the end of the book.

Kamran is another character who will elicit mixed feelings from the reader. Hints of dangerous but a very endearing, deep mind create a nice blend. His looks are apparent but not focused on and the way he and Rand meet is interesting, unique and holds intonation for future parts of the book. But he is human and flawed, possibly more flawed than others. Throughout much of Rand’s pregnant, he isn’t around and this ratchets up the overall feelings of desolation and loneliness. I often found myself wanting to smack him and scream that all Rand needed was him. Despite this, Cupala finds a way to twist things around, changing the reader’s feelings towards him subtly throughout the book. I didn’t despise him the entire time, and though Rand is the narrator, enough of Kamran’s own feelings and actions come through.

Also notable, the darker side of Rand is portrayed, from her bullying ways to her harsh treatment to a former best friend but again, Cupala does not excuse or justify. She simply puts it on display, letting the reader make of it what they will rather than trying to force their opinion. A large part of this style comes from the events Rand is going through, some of which even women prepared for pregnancy never face. She is forced to grow up quickly and handles it as smoothly as possible. Cupala shows this development and change in mindset, allowing Rand to acknowledge things she's done while also having a new found ability to see an overall picture.

The plot is a whirring one, prevalent on the emotional atmosphere and playing out a potent path that can happen with teenage pregnancy. Cupala very smoothly brings to the light the notion that a teen pregnancy impacts many people and the way those people handle it impact the pregnant girl. Left essentially on Rand, this is a very strong coming of age novel for a girl going way past her years as a result of not only her present circumstances but prior events in her life. Learning to let go of some things, understand others, and open doors for the future are a big thing for Rand . The emotions and thoughts she experiences are ones even adults can still experience.

This is a very stunning debut, providing intense evidence towards how strong Cupala’s natural writing ability is. There are numerous different elements of the book, a few separate arcs which tie together at unexpected times, in surprising ways, and leaving the reader with a strong sense of closure by the end. Her descriptions are in depth, her scenes realistic and vivid. For anyone who has ever experienced or known someone in this situation, Cupala will tear open wounds and force a reconnection. For those who haven’t, she portrays it strongly enough for the reader to feel as though they experienced everything Rand did, from the pain to the confusion, and everything along her very twisty path.

Source: ARC received for review free of charge from the author/publisher
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen (June 22, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061766666
ISBN-13: 978-0061766664

Author's Website


  1. This sounds really great! I'm adding this to my list right now.

  2. Oh wow, I didn't think it was possible for me to want to read this book even more...and then I read your brilliant review! This book sounds absolutely amazing. I'm so excited for it to finally be coming out.

  3. I enjoyed your review. You make it sound amazing, I like that. I'll be picking this up pretty soon!

  4. Wow! Stunning review!
    Just like the book, this review deserves 5 stars! It makes me want to buy the book right when it comes out :) Which i'm most likely to do now!

  5. This one looks incredible. It was already on my list, but now I'm literally dying to read it. Thanks for getting me all excited :)

  6. The characters sound so engaging--I can't wait to read this one! Great review! It's going on my wishlist right now.

  7. This one is on my TBR list. I’m glad you loved it. I can’t wait to read it.

  8. I absolutely loved this book--glad to see you enjoyed it too!

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  10. I can't wait to read this. The preview book was so great but now I want more!! :) Glad you enjoyed it.