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Book Review - My Secret to Keep by Barbara Conrey

In full disclosure I have to tell you that I know Barbara Conrey, that’s why you won’t see this review on Amazon or Goodreads. She and I are both published by Red Adept Publishing. Barbara has participated in Hometown Novel Nights, as have I. Further, I was the content editor for her first book, Nowhere Near Goodbye, which is a USA Today Bestseller. With that being said, I was not involved in any aspect of My Secret to Keep. I have not spoken with Barbara about the book. I did not work on any stage of the edits, so I feel comfortable giving an honest review of this book. Ultimately, I listened to it because I was intrigued, not because I knew the author.

This novel spans four decades and explores one woman’s relationship with society, religion, and family. The novel exists within the same universe as Conrey’s first novel, Nowhere Near Goodbye, and fans will recognize some familiar characters in the overlap. Maggie is a teen when she finds herself pregnant. She is in love with her boyfriend and they want to get married. Fate has other plans for Maggie and her lover dies and their desire to wed is never fulfilled. Maggie’s parents are fundamental in their beliefs and disown, like really and seriously disown, her. That event sets the stage for a lifetime in the shadow of disapproval. The family that she has left, a brother and a sister-in-law, is grounded in the same narrow understanding and expectations as her parents. Even though Maggie stands firm for what she knows is right, for her, those around her conspire to steal her right to choose.

Maggie suffers from loss and a feeling of isolation. The first time she meets someone who sees her as a person of value, she feels an immediate connection. Anne is her teacher, a friend, and a mentor. Over time, Maggie realizes that her emotions toward Anne are complicated and feel much like love. Unfortunately, it is a forbidden love. Maggie strives not to feel these emotions. It was difficult for me, as a reader, to reconcile Maggie’s choices and Anne’s continued devotion even when Maggie gave her the barest of threads to cling to.

I always appreciate a novel that does not paint a pretty picture, one that builds characters filled with flaws and conflict. I even like a novel that creates a main character that is not necessarily likable. That’s how I felt about Maggie. She was stubborn, narrow-minded, in her way, and filled with conflict about her desires and affections. She was driven by a desire, no, a need, to do the right thing. Patty, Maggie’s sister-in-law, was wholly unlikeable, but even she was offered redemption over time. Her brother, Sam, was infuriatingly patriarchal, yet he was ruled by a domineering wife. Anne was lovely, a mix of grace, sophistication, and kindness that helped to heal the wounds in Maggie’s soul.

Throughout the novel, I found myself trying to find the home for the title, and Conrey held that gem out for the very last chapter. The revelation left me with the strangest mix of sadness and satisfaction. Several times I stopped the book to just contemplate what it would have been to be a gay woman in the 1940s, 1950s, or even the 1960s. That’s what this book gave me. It gave me an understanding of my grandmother’s era. I had to remind myself that this was a book written of a different time. That’s what this book gave me. It gave me an understanding of my grandmother’s era. Conrey continues to bring authentic narratives to the forefront and opens the dialogue for readers. Conrey's books are prime for book clubs and reader groups.


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