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Hush, Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word

Meghan takes on a v. tough and serious subject matter in These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf. (Read: look elsewhere for giggles and shizz.)

Hush, Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word

BOOK REPORT for These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

Cover Story: No Shame
BFF Charm: Yay - Finally
Swoonworthy Scale: Negative Infinity Minus 1
Talky Talk: All Grown Up
Bonus Factors: Secrets, A Bookstore, Cliff Huxtable Award
Relationship Status: It's Complicated

Cover Story: No Shame

There's nothing crazy about this cover. It's not the most exciting or compelling one I've ever seen, but it does the job -- it says, "Hey, wanna read a book about dark secrets and maybe a teenager (judging from the shoes, and because, though hipster would wear the shoes, she probably wouldn't wear cargo capris -- even ironically)" and guess what? It IS a book about secrets and teenagers.

The Deal:

Allison Glenn is 21, and she just got out of prison for drowning her newborn daughter five years earlier. She went from being the perfect daughter -- athletic, brilliant and beautiful -- to a monster. She's moving to a halfway house in her old town and is desperate to reconnect with her fragile younger sister, Brynn, who can't escape her sister's shadow and whose role in the night Allison gave birth has haunted her ever since.

Claire Kelby and her husband Jonathan own a bookstore and have a five-year-old adopted son, Joshua. He was left at a fire station when he was a month old, and the authorities were never able to find his parents.

Charm Tullia lives with her firefighter ex-stepfather, Gus, who's dying of lung cancer. She's studying to be a nurse, and loves stopping in at Bookends to see Claire and Joshua. All these people are connected, but they don't know it yet. It's really hard to say more without more spoilage than a frat house refrigerator, so I'll zip it.

BFF Charm: Yay - Finally!

Man, Allison REALLY had to work hard to get my bff charm. I mean, infanticide is NOT something that's particularly forgivable, and Allison spends a lot of time wishing people would give her a second chance, and being jealous of her sister Brynn's more normal life, never thinking about how damaged Brynn is. And sure, I get it -- it's human to feel that way, especially at 21, but damn. In the end, I was able to give her a great big hug.

I totally had no problem giving my bff charm to Claire, even though I'm slightly jealous of her bookish carpenter husband.

Swoonworthy Scale: Negative Infinity Minus 1

It's a story about infanticide. There would be something so wrong about swoon here (although Claire and Jonathan, the bookstore owners/Joshua's parents, are super adorbs, and Jonathan is way sexy).

Talky Talk: All Grown Up

Gudenkauf may have college students as main characters, but she does not write as if she's trying to write YA. She just tells her story, simply and clearly. The chapters alternate among the four main characters -- Allison, Brynn, Claire and Charm -- although only Allison and Brynn's chapters are told in first person. I really liked getting both the inside scoop and omniscient look at the story, and Gudenkauf handled the switches in points of view cleanly. The book could easily have gone Jodi Picoult, manipulating and sentimental and over the top, or Lifetime movie, but the writing -- at once simple and eloquent -- saves the day. I thought she did an especially good job getting inside Allison and Brynn's heads.

Here's Allison:

Every waking minute of my day was spent studying, cramming as much knowledge into my head as possible. I was sort of like one of those binge eaters who sit in a closet, with their packages of doughnuts and bags of potato chips, and stuff food in their mouths, not understanding why, just needing to do it. That's how I felt. I needed more and more information and I didn't know why. ... I studied once for a history test on the Revolutionary War for ten hours straight. ... Finally, my father, who always tiptoed about as if he were afraid to startle the air around me, came into my room and took the book from my hands and insisted that I come down and eat something. I tried to balance things out -- I joined all the sports teams I could -- but it was the same kind of endless circle. I had to run farther, run faster -- not to beat some competitor. No, it was something else. I'm not sure what, but I know I was miserable.

And Brynn:

I wake up to hear the phone ringing and I realize that it's probably Allison again. I sit up. I can still taste the wine coolers I was drinking last night in the back of my throat and smell cigarette smoke on my clothes. ... I shower and dress, knowing that I'm going to be late for my ten o'clock class. I rush down the stairs, my shoulders damp from my wet hair, pass my grandmother and say a quick goodbye. I reach into my purse for my medication and grab a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Driving toward the college, I fish out one pill, then another, swallowing them both with one gulp of water, willing the tiny beads of medicine within the capsules to travel to my brain, to carry the images of dead babies -- primate and human -- away from me. Allison may have gone to jail, but I'm the one in prison and will never be free.

Bonus Factor: Secrets

Ok, obvs there are a bunch of twisty little secrets in this book. Some you see coming, some you don't, and the ones you predict add suspense and shadows rather than irritate. The multiple points of view let the story unfold slowly, too.

Bonus Factor: A Bookstore

Y'all! My if-libaries-don't-work-out dream is of owning a cute indie bookstore that actually makes money, and bringing my dog to work every day. And Claire gets to do it! So jealous.

Bonus Factor: Cliff Huxtable Award

I haven't said much about Charm and Gus in the interest of spoil-avoidance, but Gus is so sweet and wonderful. He's a better parent than Charm's biological ones, and there's a scene between the two of them that deserves a DNRIP tag.

Casting Call:

Blake Lively as Allison

Relationship Status: It's Complicated

This book. Hmfph. It's well written, intriguing, and hard to forget but all I want to do is forget it. I admired it while it horrified me, gave me the creeps and made me very, very sad. It's a break from the standard pregnant-teen fare, and I think it'll go down great with readers, but I never want to read it again. Call me crazy, but I DO NOT LIKE reading about dead babies, so if you need me, I'll be at home, hiding from this book and snuggling Mr. T like there's no tomorrow.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Mira. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). These Things Hidden is available now.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.