"FOUR SECRETS," by Margaret Willey, Carolrhoda Books, $17.95, 288 pages (f) (ages 12-18)
Staggering statistics from the U.S. Department of Education say that more than 13 million students are bullied each year. “Four Secrets” addresses this dilemma through Katie and Nate, shadows in the school population, and Renata, the artist and newest target of an ego-bullier.
When the three band together as outsiders, the bullying intensifies. They decide that alerting the authorities is not an option and take the situation into their own hands with a plan: “stop thinking like slaves and we had to have a plan.”
The plan is to get the bully, Chase, alone — away from his popular athletic friends — and make him listen to reason. While the first part of the plan is accomplished, Chase is less than reasonable with unexpected demands of his own. There are consequences for holding him as a “captive,” and Katie, Nate and Renata end up in a juvenile detention center segregated from each other’s loyalty and friendship, keeping personal and painful secrets.
As part of the detention therapy, Katie, Nate and Renata are required to write journal entries disclosing their views of the “attack on Chase.” Katie writes two diaries; one just for the center and the other her poignant personal feelings. Nate’s writing reflects his love of the classics and passion for fantasy while Renata sketches startling black-and-white illustrations that mirror her fears and nightmares.
Intermingled in the story are a social worker’s notes as she tries to tie together the three diverse versions of the bully’s abduction.
When it is disclosed that Chase, too, has a life-altering secret, the future for the four teens is never grounded the same again.
While this story of bullying and its possible repercussions is hard-hitting and timely, the power of “Four Secrets” is found in Margaret Wiley’s masterful portrayal of individual characters developed through journal entries that slowly peel away layers of trouble and soul searching while releasing the kept secrets that hardened their hearts. Young readers will readily identify — and sympathize — with all four.
“Four Secrets” contains a few instances of strong language in the detention center and rumors related to family members of the four teenagers.
“Four Secrets” was inspired by events that happened to the author’s daughter and her daughter’s friends when they were bullied by older boys in school. “These were kids that I cared about and admired, I was amazed at how determined they were to rescue and comfort each other.”