Title: Our Dark Secret
Author: Jenny Quintana
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery & Thriller
Word/Page Count: 320 (paperback)
Publication Details: February 11th, 2020 by Pan Macmillan Australia
RRP: $29.99 AUD (paperback)
Blurb from Goodreads:
From the author of The Missing Girl, Jenny Quintana’s gripping novel, Our Dark Secret, tells the story of two girls, two deaths and two decades of silence . . .
The crazy girls, they called them – or at least, Elizabeth liked to think they did. As a teenager in the late 1970s, she was clever, overweight and a perfect victim for the bullies. Then Rachel and her family arrived in town and, for Elizabeth, it was as if a light had been switched on. She was drawn to the bright and beautiful Rachel like a moth to a flame.
Rachel had her own reasons for wanting Elizabeth as a friend, and although their relationship was far from equal, Elizabeth would do anything for Rachel.
Then the first body was discovered.
Twenty years on, Elizabeth wants nothing more than to keep the secrets of her teenage years where they belong: in the past. But another body has been found, and she can’t keep running from what happened.
2020 is the year of broadening my reading horizons and it’s really paying off! My preferred genre is YA contemporary, sci-fi and fantasy, but I’ve received a couple of ‘grown-up’ thrillers from the fabulous team at Pan Macmillan Australia and thought I should check them out. The result? WINNING. Just like ‘Big Lies In A Small Town‘, this is another addictive read with a compelling character-driven storyline.
A body has been discovered in the dip in the wasteland beyond the orchard, formerly the protagonist Elizabeth’s childhood stomping ground, and she knows exactly who it is and how they ended up there. We dip into different time periods as Elizabeth pieces together her history for us, unspooling hints and clues along the way relating to the titular ‘dark secret’ and periodically returning to the present day in 1999 while she reflects on her next move. This storytelling format isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s highly effective in developing her character, propelling the plot and keeping the reader hooked. It’s the perfect recipe for a page-turner where people keep thinking ‘just one more chapter‘ and then end up binging it in one go because you just HAVE to find out what happened!
The pacing may be a bit slow for some readers as this is largely focused on Elizabeth’s personal life and the greater impact of her choices. There are certainly surprising twists and turns, but it’s more akin to a cozy mystery than a story driven by breathless adrenaline-packed gimmicks. I really enjoyed the no-frills approach that the author chose, eschewing melodrama and frantically escalating stakes in favor of a character study of a normal plain dumpy girl with self-esteem issues who becomes infatuated with the pretty new girl in town.
Not everyone will warm to Elizabeth – she’s painfully realistic as a lonely, willful child blind to the problems she causes out of a desire for attention, then as a teenager, it’s cringe-worthy how desperate she is for Rachel’s friendship, fawning over her and very blatantly making up pretexts to show up at her house in an attempt to inveigle herself into Rachel’s life. But I have a spot spot for ‘unlikable’ female protagonists – I really felt for Elizabeth and rooted for her to find security and happiness even as I shook my head in despair at her fumbling social awkwardness (I related a little too much at points).
Friendships between young girls can be frighteningly all-consuming and with an obsessive personality like Elizabeth’s, the tension builds throughout the story as we wait to see what tragedy unfolds and how Rachel is involved since we know that Elizabeth will do anything for her, anything at all. I twisted myself in knots waiting for the final reveal and it was absolutely satisfying once the author revealed all at last.
Recommended for fans of slow-burn psychological thrillers, family drama and languid character studies with a dark underbelly.
Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.