Books contemporary Crime fiction mystery Romance suspense thriller Young Adult

Secrets, mystery and redemption in Karen M. McManus’ “Two Can Keep a Secret”

Reading a novel by Karen M. McManus is like a breath of fresh air – her stories are incredibly unique and fast paced, and with her murder mysteries, she reminds us that young adult doesn’t always equate to romance. She creates suspense, has us guessing what’s coming next, and has us sitting on the edge of our seats as mystery unfolds.

Her novel, Two Can Keep a Secret, is no different.

Ellery’s never been to Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen’s murder five years ago made national news. And where Ellery now has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, after her failed-actress mother lands in rehab. No one knows what happened to either girl, and Ellery’s family is still haunted by their loss.

Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen’s death. His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace. His mother’s remarriage vaulted her and Malcolm into Echo Ridge’s upper crust, but their new status grows shaky when mysterious threats around town hint that a killer plans to strike again. No one has forgotten Malcolm’s brother-and nobody trusts him when he suddenly returns to town.

Ellery and Malcolm both know it’s hard to let go when you don’t have closure. Then another girl disappears, and Ellery and Malcolm were the last people to see her alive. As they race to unravel what happened, they realize every secret has layers in Echo Ridge. The truth might be closer to home than either of them want to believe.

And somebody would kill to keep it hidden.

Two Can Keep a Secret is a powerful story about secrets and how far someone might go to make sure they’re kept hidden. The thing that makes a mystery, thriller novel stand out is how clever and witty they need to be, even more so when it’s set in a small town where nothing that happens slips by, like in Echo Ridge.

McManus skilfully manages to weave everything together in this story without leaving anything out and considering how many strings there were in this story, which really spans across 23 years, that is some feat.

But probably the most impressive thing about Two Can Keep a Secret is that it carries some mature and dark themes for a novel in the young adult genre. Including the importance of family, the lingering effects of violence, the past vs the present, survival’s guilt and the dichotomy between high school and the adult world.

I also think it’s important to note the diversity McManus has added to the story. Out of the four main characters, they are a mix of biracial, white and Latinx origin. Also, one of them is gay and another bisexual. I think it can be underestimated how difficult and hard it can be to be in a minority in a small town where every action is judged and watched, and nothing goes amiss.

It’s not a massive part of the story, but McManus did a great job of making people aware of what’s it’s like to be different in a place where you’re not sure different is a good thing to be.

There’s a lot of drama in Two Can Keep a Secret and the characters go through a lot. From going missing, being murdered, or attempted to be murdered, to being the wrongly accused and the ones who are left behind trying to pick up the pieces.

Although it’s a bit outlandish to say this is what life’s like for everyone, what Two Can Keep a Secret does show is that life isn’t easy for anyone. Every single one of characters are going through something, or have gone through something, that has changed them at the core of who they really are.

But, because of this, McManus presents to us a way that we can move on and get past all that damage: through forgiveness, by living our lives, and through finding happiness and peace in small moments that become the big moments.

At the end of the Two Can Keep a Secret, McManus writes:

“How? How are we supposed to get past something like this?”
I look over her head at the porch, where Declan’s rejoined Daisy and they’re talking with Ryan and Mrs. Corcoran. Ezra’s gotten off the porch railing to hold the baby again, and Mia’s making faces at it. The Kilduffs arrived at some point, and even though my mother’s not here, I can almost picture her venturing into something like this one day. Forgiving herself for believing a monster’s lies. We all have to figure out a way to do that. “Just living, I guess,” I finally say.

– Karen M. McManus, Two Can Keep a Secret

It’s not easy. To move forward after your world has been turned upside down and everything you think you know changes. But through love, forgiveness and living our lives the best we can, we can make it through. That is our redemption.

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