Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
Date Published: February 2011
Publisher: Mira Books
Source: I received a free review copy from Erin at Moss Media Relations. Thanks Erin!
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Description (from the publisher):
When teenager Allison Glenn is sent to prison for a heinous crime, she leaves behind her reputation as Linden Falls' golden girl forever. Her parents deny the existence of their once-perfect child. Her former friends exult in her downfall. Her sister, Brynn, faces whispered rumors every day in the hallways of their small Iowa high school. It's Brynn—shy, quiet Brynn—who carries the burden of what really happened that night. All she wants is to forget Allison and the past that haunts her.
But then Allison is released to a halfway house, and is more determined than ever to speak with her estranged sister.
Now their legacy of secrets is focused on one little boy. And if the truth is revealed, the consequences will be unimaginable for the adoptive mother who loves him, the girl who tried to protect him and the two sisters who hold the key to all that is hidden.

These Things Hidden is shocking and heartwrenching, with a storyline that feels like it could have been ripped from the headlines. It tackles various hot-button topics, including the pressure on teens to excel, teen pregnancy, adoption, mental illness and depression, cancer, and poverty, in a gripping and realistic way. I kind of feel like I've given out some spoilers by saying that, but it's not exactly what you would expect. In fact, throughout the story things aren't always as they seem, and though I predicted a couple of the twists, there were still many surprises.

The story is written from various points of view, alternating with each chapter. I don't always like this kind of approach, but I think it was effective in this case because it helps the reader to better understand the story and each character's feelings and motives. I think Brynn was the most heartbreaking character of them all, even though her sister Allison is the one that went to prison and had her family and friends turn their backs on her. Brynn was carrying a lot of issues inside of her, and the combination of her natural timidity, a lousy home life, and the events that led to Allison's incarceration just devastated her. Although she does some awful things later in the story, you can't help but feel some sympathy for her. My favorite character was Charm. Her family circumstances were difficult, but I think she was the most normal and admirable person in the story.

This is the kind of book that will, at times, make you cringe and gasp in disbelief. I was definitely caught up in the story and kept turning the pages late into the night. I think fans of Jodi Picoult will like this one, especially with the multiple narrators, controversial issues explored, and unexpected twists. This book was so thought-provoking that I've put Ms. Gudenkauf's first novel, The Weight of Silence, on my wishlist.

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