Today’s review is of a middle grade novel by one of my author friends from over at YAAR. Ethan’s Secret by Patrick Hodges is the second in a series, and while they could stand alone, I would recommend reading them in order.
Ethan’s Secret follows the story of Kelsey who is a spunky little thing from the first book. In this story, she meets Ethan who is a new kid in her school and her detective-wired brain is instantly interested in the boy who is trying too hard to be one of the ‘bad boys’.
Honestly, I went into this book with super high expectations (probably because I enjoyed the first one so much) and while I wasn’t disappointed in the overall story at all, there were a few things that I didn’t like. I’ll list those first to get them out of the way and on to the good stuff! First, I should issue a warning that the rest of this review will have some sub-plot spoilers, but no plot spoilers. I hope that makes sense.
Okay, so I didn’t like the whole sub-pot with Kelsey’s friend Bree. Now before anyone who’s read the book automatically assumes my reasoning, let me explain. Bree started treated Kelsey like crap the minute she admitted to having a crush on Ethan and started spending time with him. This wasn’t a one time thing, but nasty treatment over the course of a month. Then, when Kelsey realizes it is because Bree has a crush on her and confronts her, Bree about-faces and then asks Kelsey to kiss her (even though she’s pretty much with Ethan at this point) just to be sure there isn’t any connection between them. Later, Kelsey kisses Ethan and thinks it’s funny she kissed a boy and a girl in the same day. Now, to be fair, let’s consider how this would look if Bree was a guy. He treats his friend like crap because he’s jealous and likes her, then he pressures her into kissing him to prove there’s nothing between them, then she laughs at the craziness of kissing two boys in one day! The whole scenario bothered me…a lot and seemed to promote a real doubled standard. Beyond, that our main character is a take-no-crap from anyone type of girl. I found it hard to believe that she would willingly allow her friend to treat her so bad, simply forgive her because of her emotions and sexuality, and then be pressured by guilt into kissing her. It really weakened a character I loved.
A subplot I would have loved to see expanded on instead, was Tanya–a girl who had been a bully, but changed her ways. I think that would have been great, and tied in with book one more. My only other hang-up with this book were other times Kelsey acted out of character. I thought she would be more leery of Ethan and I wanted to see her be more kick-butt at the end. She was cool, but I felt like someone stole the show…and I won’t tell you who!
What I liked about his book was the writing. I feel the author really knows and understands this age well and it isn’t an easy age to write. I liked that Kelsey had a great relationship with her dad. I loved seeing her respect toward him. I also like Ethan coming to appreciate and help his brother more. It took me awhile to connect with Ethan, maybe because he is so lost, but by the end I was definitely rooting for him. Although I figured out the ‘secret’ pretty early on, I don’t think this detracted at all from the story as I still wanted to see how it would end. And the ending was great. I loved that the author didn’ t go for a quick fix HEA, but I was still so satisfied by the end. And it was a little swoony.
Overall, I would recommend this book with a few reservations. The characters are 13, but their relationships are serious. I’m hoping to avoid this with my kids for as long as possible (maybe when they are 20?). For sure, they won’t be inviting their girlfriends over for dinner any time soon. Call me old fashioned, but I think that’s just such a young age for such an intimate relationship and, beyond that, for kids to not only explore, but define their sexuality. I think I was still playing with barbies at that age…and hadn’t yet realized I should shave my legs.;)
Going against the norm, I would have to say I preferred book one. Here, Hodges attacks the tough issue of bullying and makes both character’s so compelling you love them from the start. Here’s my Goodreads review of that one:
Joshua’s Island tackles the issue of bullying with a really hopeful, positive light. Our main character, Joshua handles the abuse he is receiving at school like so many kids, in silence. Eve gets to him and teaches him the power of opening up and letting other people help him. I think this is a great book to have your kids read, to open their eyes to the people being damaged around them and to teach them to trust. It does have some mild swearing and the two main characters are pretty young to have such a serious relationship, but considering the situation, this seems realistic. Hodges voice makes it feel like you are sitting down with a friend and listening to them tell a story. The descriptions in the book aren’t overly unique or stunning, but the simplicity of the writing only makes the story more authentic and heartfelt. I would call this a solid read that handles a tough issue with class.
So start with Joshua’s Island and follow Kelsey to Ethan’s Secret to get the rest of Kelsey’s story. Happy reading, friends!