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Four Secrets (Carolrhoda Ya) Hardcover – August 1, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 8-10-Though Katie, Nate, and Renata are social outcasts, they have a very tight bond. So when big man on campus Chase begins bullying Renata, they kidnap him, and because of their drastic action, they all end up in juvenile detention. Their social worker asks them each to keep a journal, and the novel is made up of their entries as well as an omniscient narrative. Katie writes two journals; in one she tells what actually happened, but the other is blatantly fake, intended for Mrs. Shield. Nate writes a flowery, fantasy-novel version of events. Renata uses her journal as a sketchbook, producing powerful black-and-white illustrations of pivotal moments leading up to her detention. The girls' journals offer great insights into their characters. Nate's high-fantasy language protects him from view until the very end, when the social worker breaks down his walls. The omniscient narrator chapters, though necessary, are jolting after the intimacy of the personal accounts. These kids have never been in trouble before, and their first act of rebellion goes wildly over-the-top in a believable, out-of-control spiral. These middle school kids encounter drugs, alcohol, sexuality, and violence, but Willey sensitively and skillfully reveals not only the details of their drastic act, but also the secrets that the three friends and their victim harbor, secrets that shape who they are and what their futures may be.-Geri Diorio, Ridgefield Library, CTα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Four secrets? Feels more like 400. This mystery twists like kudzu, creeping ever closer to truths that, as readers, we both need to know and are afraid to find out. Katie, Nate, and Renata are three junior high school friends locked up in juvie after being found guilty of kidnapping the class bully, Chase. Their stories are told in nonsequential, piecemeal fashion via journals for their social worker, Greta Shield. It’s a potential overload of information that Willey navigates with clarity and aplomb: Katie has two diaries, one for Mrs. Shield and a secret one filled with screenplay-style dialogue; Renata communicates only in skewed, nightmarish drawings; and Nate tells his story as if it were a Tolkienesque fantasy. This last gambit is risky but reveals the tale’s mythic quality. In Nate’s version, he is “Nathaniel of Greymount,” juvie is “the Place of Contrition,” and Chase is “the Master of Contortions.” Gradually, Greta Shield emerges as the protagonist, obsessed with digging up the truth. If Chase wasn’t really kidnapped, then why are all four kids sticking to their stories? Low on visceral detail but rich in unique voices, Willey’s story masterfully teases out information until the final pages—and the ultimate revelations are well worth the torture. Grades 7-10. --Daniel Kraus

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Product Details

  • Series: Carolrhoda Ya
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Carolrhoda Books (August 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0761385355
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761385356
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,697,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Margaret Willey grew up in a lakeside town in Michigan, the eldest daughter in a family of eleven children. Reading stories and poems to her younger brothers and sisters led her to a life of writing stories and poems for young readers. She is the author of many young adult novels, most recently FOUR SECRETS (Carolrhoda Lab 2012)as well as picture books with an emphasis on folktales. She is the author of the CLEVER BEATRICE series, as well as THE 3 BEARS AND GOLDILOCKS (Atheneum 2008). She has received many honors for her books, including The Charlotte Zolotow Award and the Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award. In 2010 she was given the GWEN FROSTIC AWARD from the Michigan Reading Association, an award for impacting literacy in her state. She continues to write for both teens and younger readers. Find out more about Margaret at

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pig_Weasley on August 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book explores the power that secrets have and the danger of sharing them with the wrong person. Katie, Nate, and Renata are all in juvenile detention for kidnapping the most popular boy in school, Chase Dobson. Their counselor wants to help them and prepare them for their upcoming trial, but the 3 friends have made a pact to never tell what really happened in the days that Chase was hidden in Renata's basement room. Through the journals that the counselor gives each teen, the true story emerges, as well as the secrets that each has been desperately trying to hide. The different perspectives of the teens, as well as the counselor, made the book seem more fleshed out. The reader gets multiple sides of the story. One character's contributions are almost entirely drawings, while another creates a fantasy life to distance himself from events in his life. Overall, a satisfying read that will hook teen readers from the start.

An electronic copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley. This is my honest, unbiased review.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Regina on October 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I feel so fortunate to have received a copy of Four Secrets from the publisher, otherwise this book may have passed me by. And this book should not pass readers by. Four Secrets is an interesting and gripping read that I was reluctant to put down. Honestly, it takes a lot for me to read a print book these days -- pathetic, but yeah I need my ereader. I find myself not finishing print books that I start, but not with Four Secrets. The text of this book pulled me in. Ms. Willey tells the story through journal entries of three 8th grade children and from the point of view of a social worker trying to help them. Each character has a distinct voice; but each is interesting and easy to connect with. The setting of the story in the present is a juvenile detention center, but there are flash backs to the halls of the middle school, parties, children's houses and encounters with parents. The subject matter? Bullying, secrets and friendship.

This is a book that I want my 7th grade daughter to read. Absolutely. It does, however, have appeal beyond middle schoolers. Parents, high school aged children, teachers, and fans of middle-grade and young adult books will enjoy Four Secrets. Four Secrets is a message book, but beyond that it is also enjoyable. The message is one that needs to be heard by parents, teachers and students (both victims and bullies) but I don't think it is presented like an after-school special. Ms. Willey does a great job in moving beyond stereotypes of mean girls and negligent parents as the ones responsible for all the pain that kids go through. The tension in the book starts off right in the beginning and gradually readers learn the secrets lurking behind everyone's story.
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Format: Hardcover
One day they were leading life on their own terms and the next they found themselves at Ferndale Juvenile Detention center with social worker, Greta Shield, breathing down their necks. Honestly, who wanted to journal about the experience. Lenora Dobson, who was livid and wouldn't talk about her son, Chase, said to the Mrs. Shield, "They are social misfits from dysfunctional families." Chase was the athletic darling of North Holmes, but also the biggest bully to walk through the doors of any school. Katie Havenga didn't fancy being in juvie, but they had to find "a way to stop Chase Dobson from hurting Renata." No one was going to help them now because they weren't the "important kids."

Granted, no one would never think that kidnapping Chase and holding him hostage was even remotely kosher, but something had to be done. They kept him at Renata Le Cortez's house on the ground floor and her mother didn't even notice. It wasn't her style. From the day Katie and Nate Wilson met her, she'd become Katie's "perfect and beautiful friend." The three of them had created their own perfect little family and had made a pact never to tell what had gone on. Before anything happened, Renata proudly told them that "We're going to prove something once and for all to all the Chase Dobsons of the world." She needed their help and would get it. "Are you going to torture me? Like with cigarettes?" Chase Dobson III had asked them that night.

Greta Shield read an "overview of the kidnapping charges and the subsequent arrests" from the police report. There were "riddles and ciphers" in the journals and nothing was adding up. Despite the fact that the three had been separated, they held steadfast to their pact to keep silent.
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Format: Hardcover
The most prominent issue I had with FOUR SECRETS was the age of the three protagonists and the talked-about antagonist. They're all supposed to be in eighth grade but I kept finding that I had to remind myself that these weren't kids in high school. Just the extent of the issues they were having, how they spoke about it, how they carried it out it, just seemed so far beyond someone still in middle school.

Granted have it set their freshman year in high school and I probably wouldn't have batted an eye. Not much of a difference age-wise in the slightest but the association is different. In my mind there's a pretty big gap between middle school and high school and the voices I kept reading, at least to me, were high school age. I just wasn't convinced they were middle school, especially when body sizes came into play. All except Renata were described as large, either in stature or bulk (and by bulk I mean muscle). It just didn't fit for me and it was a point of contention throughout and every time I was reminded of their ages it wrenched me out of the story a little bit.

But other than that it was a really good, pretty fast, read told from the perspectives of four different people, Chase excluded. I could wholly empathize with the feelings of the social worker whose job it was to get to the bottom of why these kids kidnapped their classmate. Because they entered into some kind of pact they wouldn't talk and she ended up getting the creative runaround from all three of them.

Nate told his view in story form, referring to the people involved by assigned fantastical names and set in a scene that only vaguely alludes to what actually happened. Yeah you can get what he's saying but his was the portion of the book I liked the least.
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