Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins
When Asha’s father leaves to find a job in New York, his two daughters and wife must move to Calcutta to live with his brother’s family. Without their father and in a new city, the girls lives become restricted almost entirely to one house. With their mother suffering from depression, the girls are often denied their only advocate and must submit entirely to the will of their relatives. Living in such close quarters means that secrets that have been kept are slowly unraveled, while new secrets are jealously guarded. A heart-breaking turn of events only serves to increase the stakes.
Asha is a fabulous character, strong and smart in a time and place where beauty and obedience are prized above all. Proof of her coolness: Asha edits books when reading aloud to her cousins so that they reflect her values, changing all references to white or fair girls and praising their character instead of their beauty.
I’ve categorized this as tween as well as teen because there is so much about changing bodies and how society expects us to change personally to match our physical selves. I think it’s very relevant for tweens even if the characters are a bit older and the content slightly more mature.
Great for: This is a pretty special coming of age novel although it is heartbreaking at times, in a way that some teens will probably find displeasing.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – Reet gets unwanted attention from men, including harassment (physical at times). Asha records crushes in her diary. We hear about when Asha first got her period. Girls discuss their figures and breast sizes and how men stare at them. There’s talk of wanting a boy. Their grandmother explains that some men will wait after marriage until girls are ready.
Profanity– Asha mutters “a forbidden swearword” under her breath.
Death, Violence and Gore – There is a death in the family that changes the course of everyone’s life.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – The girls’ father chain smokes.
Frightening or Intense Things – The girls’ mother suffers from depression.