My Rating: I’d go there again! (4/5)
I got my hands on a copy of this book when I was at a library conference back in January. I was lucky enough to meet the author and get my copy signed (yes, this is why I love library conferences). Of course, as soon as I get the book at home it languishes on my book shelf. I decided to give it a try this weekend and I was sucked into life at an English boarding school.
What We Hide was completely unexpected. From the cover, I was expecting something more girly and less serious, and frankly more romantic. But, in this case, I’m glad my expectations were not met. This was a great novel, and one that I think will have a wide appeal. What We Hide is told in multiple viewpoints from the students attending Illington Hall, a boarding school in England. Each of these students is very different, but they all have one thing in common, they are all hiding something. These secrets range from the serious to the superficial, but it’s what binds them together in this narrative. Only the reader is treated to the undisclosed truth.
Aside from the less frivolous subject matter that I was expecting, I was also surprised by the historical setting. I assumed that this would be a contemporary book; however, What We Hide is actually set during the Vietnam War. One of the narrators, Jenny, is an American who has come to England to study with her brother, who’s dodging the draft by attending university overseas. When I read the description, it didn’t click that there would be anything historical about this one, but it totally worked. This era lends another layer to a complex plot and really added something to several of the character’s stories and impacted the secrets that they kept. It not a period where I’ve read a lot of fiction, so I felt that I learned something about the era and the social norms and custom expected. In a lot of ways, it’s not all that different from today, especially considering the prejudices and preconceived notions that these teens had about others and for themselves.
There were moments when I was questioning each character’s actions and moments when I wanted to give of them a hug and stop them from making a bad decision. But at the end of the day, I think What We Hide offers a very realistic picture of growing up and the things that kids (everyone, really) will do to fit it. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s plain heartbreaking. But there’s always a reason to hide something.
Ultimately, I thought this was a fantastic read. My expectations went up in smoke, but that was not a bad thing. This This book turned out to be a smart, thought provoking read. This author knows how to write, and it was a pleasure to read. While I don’t think any of these characters will stop having secrets, I do think each learned something or changed in some way during the novel. Most significantly was Jenny (the American). Her final thoughts for the book are one of my favourite quotes from the book:
“What you arrive with somewhere is never what you take home anyway.” (p. 275)
If that doesn’t sum up the experience of growing up, I don’t know what does.
*Review copy provided by the publisher.
Any similar books to read? I’m feeling stumped for this book.