Keeping Secrets is the perfect title for this series following two very different boys in their discovery that hiding the things that matter most has the power to harm not only themselves, but the people they care about. Heartless, the first of four parts, saw bully Jason Strummer telling the story as he and Tommy negotiated their stormy history to embark on a tentative romance. In Clueless, Tommy takes over the narrative, where upon it quickly becomes apparent that there exists far more to him than the reliable jock who is Jason’s anchor.
A few weeks have passed since Tommy helped Jason escape the years of sexual abuse he was forced to suffer at the hands of his stepdad. Since then, Jason has been living with him and his adoptive family, and, against the odds, the two have fallen into a comfortable routine. With the boy he loves under his protection, and both of them looking forward to a weekend camping trip to celebrate their one-month anniversary, Tommy has high hopes for the future. But Jason’s troubles won’t release their grip on him so easily. His past is about to catch up with him, bringing his and Tommy’s fragile happiness collapsing around them.
When his stepdad tracks him down in an attempt to lure him back under his destructive influence, Jason’s precarious handle on his life starts to slip. His behavior spirals increasingly out of control, and as the only one Jason has entrusted with the truth about his ordeal, Tommy believes the responsibility for holding him together rests solely on his shoulders. Yet, under the steady exterior, Tommy is fighting his own pain over the loss of his mother, choosing to bottle his feelings rather than let himself grieve. With both boys cracking under the pressure, something has to give, and that something may well be their relationship.
This is a powerful novella exploring the concept that strength doesn’t always mean coping alone. Sometimes, true courage requires admitting a burden is too heavy for one person to carry and accepting help. While the hard-hitting nature of this story often made for difficult reading, Tommy and Jason’s obvious love for each other lends optimism to even the grimmest scenes. Their relationship may never be an easy one, but what they have is an undeniable bond that will surely see them through the dark times.
Since this book is a direct continuation, Readers ideally need to be familiar with the prequel to fully appreciate the conflict and emotional complexities. So, if you haven’t picked it up already, this is a series I can highly recommend.