A SECRET SHARED, by Patricia MacLachlan, Katherine Tegen Books, Sept. 28, 2021, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)
Two siblings unearth an unsettling secret about their younger sister in A Secret Shared, by Newbery Medal–winning author Patricia MacLachlan.
Nora and Ben’s younger sister Birdy loves to keep secrets. She surprises her family more than once: She hides a kitten in her room. She writes a beautiful poem. One day Birdy watches her mother spit into a tube, ready to send it off to find out more about herself and where her family came from. Birdy spits into a tube, too, when no one sees her.
But when the test results come back, they are a surprise. Birdy is seemingly not related to Nora and Ben’s parents. But if she is adopted, how could that have happened without the children knowing?
Nora and Ben must learn when to keep a secret, and who to go to for help — and eventually, how to solve this secret for the entire family. —Synopsis provided by Katherine Tegan Books
I read a few reviews for A Secret Shared prior to writing my own, and that’s left me wondering if we read the same book. Author Patricia MacLachlan is known for her middle-grade books (Sarah, Plain and Tall; Skylark; Wonderous Rex). Her books tend to be quiet and short, often less than 100 pages.
A Secret Shared is a bit longer (160 pages), yet reviewers have said there’s not enough depth. And I think that’s where they get it wrong. The magic of so many middle-grade books happens when the authors leave breathing space. They don’t get lost in the details. And that’s what MacLachlan does.
Yes, A Secret Shared is quiet. Yes, it’s fairly simple. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s better suited for ages 7-10, but that doesn’t make it bad.
The other major complaint I saw was about MacLachlan’s treatment of adoption and how things should be. That’s like saying there’s only one good way to be a family. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and this book is an exploration of one family’s approach. And it’s a heartfelt one at that.
A Secret Shared will not appeal to everyone. There’s not a lot of action. There’s no fantasy. But it is an excellent look at family and celebrating truth, even when it’s hard.
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