Books featuring a sibling with a mental illness

Book Review: The Secrets We Share

Author: Nova Weetman
Publisher: UQP (2017)
Genre: Contemporary fiction (for a middle grade audience)

Clem is slowly rebuilding her life after a house fire destroyed everything. She’s about to start high school with her two best friends and she’s finally settled into living with her dad in their tiny flat. But when her mum unexpectedly moves in, Clem feels like there’s no space for her.

Then she meets Matt, a funny and rebellious fourteen-year-old with family troubles of his own. When everything starts to unravel, Clem must decide which secrets to keep and which to share.”

Image source
ID: A drawing of a girl's face, upside down. Her brown hair tumbles down the page. There are also small pictures below, of a house, a slice of toast with jam, a backpack and a tea cup and saucer.
Image source
ID: A drawing of a girl’s face, upside down. Her brown hair tumbles down the page. There are also small pictures below, of a house, a slice of toast with jam, a backpack and a tea cup and saucer.

This is the first sequel I’ve reviewed, and Clem’s story is also the first story featuring parental mental illness that is a series (to my knowledge). I’m still very much behind when it comes to Clem, as the next installment, The Edge of Thirteen was recently released and I haven’t read it yet! Exploring the nuances of a COPMI (child of a parent with a mental illness) dynamic would be difficult to do over several books, and Nova Weetman handled it brilliantly. As well as continuing to grapple with her relationship with her mum, Clem struggled with the transition to high school, as so many of us do (myself included).

Weetman explored the relationship between children and their parents through Clem’s complex feelings towards her mum and dad. Like many COPMI, Clem worried about getting the same illness as her mum, thinking, “I just hope her anxiousness and her freckles are the only things I inherited because lately I’ve been concerned that maybe I inherited her black moods too.” Clem struggled to trust her mum after the fire that burned down their house. And while her relationship with her dad had been strong, it was tested when he decided that her mum would live with them without consulting her. The use of symbolism was extremely effective.  The Separation Tree was Clem’s favourite, because “it reminds [me] of [my] mum.” A cut-off of the Separation Tree joined them at their new house. Just like the house (and their family), the tree would never be the same, but it could still grow. It could still become something beautiful.

Friendship was another central theme of the novel. Clem felt like a third wheel when her childhood best friend, Bridge, and her primary school friend, Elie, were in the same class in high school. Weetman used this uneven trio to mirror the trio of Clem and her parents. Clem’s neighbour, Maggie, pointed this out to her, gently observing, “three’s a difficult number. You have to work at not feeling left out.” Even as she felt excluded from Bridge and Elie, Clem developed a friendship with Maggie’s nephew, Matt, who could empathise with the experience of feeling pushed out. He enjoyed that Clem asked him so many questions, noting that “People don’t usually ask questions. They just make decisions about you without knowing why.”

I tried to pick a favourite line and I couldn’t. There are so many gems in this novel, and Clem’s feelings and behaviours are extremely relatable.  

Nova Weetman has done it again! This novel can be read as a standalone or as a follow up to The Secrets We Keep, and either way, readers are sure to adore it! I can’t wait to read The Edge of Thirteen.

You can buy a copy of The Secrets We Share from Readings independent booksellers.

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