In a small town, secrets can’t stay hidden forever. Like an errant domino succumbing to gravity, the revelation of one can trigger an avalanche of others that can slice open new wounds and rub salt into old ones. In the manner of Jodi Picoult and Chris Bohjalian, author Heather Gudenkauf takes on relevant topics and spins a yarn that engages readers with a tale that has pages turning so fast they’re likely to create paper cuts.
These Things Hidden, Gudenkauf’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut novel (The Weight of Silence, is the story of the ultimate popular girl in high school who makes a series of bad choices. Nine months after a romantic encounter with her boyfriend, Allison Glenn is arrested for (and eventually convicted of) drowning her newborn child minutes after its birth.
Fast-forward five years. Allison is out of prison and living in a halfway house. Her family has disowned her after enduring the endless torments from a community still recovering from the crime. Allison’s little sister is especially a basket case after being ridiculed by classmates and made to feel like an accomplice - a feeling not completely without merit.
As Allison tries to begin a new life on her own, she is suddenly confronted by a living, breathing reminder of the fateful night that ended with an infant girl submerged in a river and an arrest.
The first secret revealed in These Things Hidden is so obvious that what is supposed to be an ‘Aha!’ moment is more like a ‘duh’ moment. That, along with slightly two-dimensional personalities, may be the only flaws of an otherwise highly enjoyable story with the balance of surprises and plot twists sufficiently unexpected. The reader won’t soon forget the breathtaking climax.
Though comparable to Picoult and Bohjalian, Gudenkauf’s writing deserves to be in its own spotlight. Her characters, and perhaps her target audience, are on the younger end of the demographic scale, however. There are no wise elders to offer guidance when the girls in this book, barely old enough to buy a beer, learn the hard way that consequences to poor decisions can be swift and severe. Arguably, however, that is what makes These Things Hidden so real.
Pros: The cumulative effect of unveiling secrets builds to a stunning climax; as in real-life, there is not always a happy ending.
Cons: Like in real life, there is not a happy ending; characters seem a bit too familiar, and one secret is as plain as the nose on your face.
Bottom Line: After a somewhat clichéd start, Heather Gudenkauf delivers a story that becomes more captivating with each secret revealed.