Americans Jenny and her brother, Tom, are off to England: Tom to university, to dodge the Vietnam draft, Jenny to be the new girl at a boarding school, Illington Hall. This is Jenny’s chance to finally stand out, so accidentally, on purpose, she tells a lie. But in the small world of Ill Hall, everyone has something to hide. Jenny pretends she has a boyfriend. Robbie and Luke both pretend they don’t. Brenda won’t tell what happened with the school doctor. Nico wants to hide his mother’s memoir. Percy keeps his famous dad a secret. Oona lies to everyone. Penelope lies only to herself.
Deftly told from multiple points of view in various narrative styles, including letters and movie screenplays, What We Hide is provocative, honest, often funny, and always intriguing.
Another historical fiction. What can I say? I’m quite addicted. And to be completely honest, the reason I picked up What We Hide in the first place is because the novel takes place during the Vietnam War. Although I’ve read quite a few YA and MG books during that era, there’s never quite enough when it comes to the topic of war. But for this book, I had a hard time figuring out why it took place during that era in the first place. But then again, I had a hard time figuring out this book at all.
The book takes you through multiple perspectives. I’m a multiple perspectives kind of girl. Frankly, I love books that can blend multiple points of views into a well-built plot. A few of my favorite books (Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology and Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood) actually contain multiple POVs; sometimes from different eras, even. But for this book, there were eight different perspectives, and although I have dealt with more before, these perspectives became overwhelming. By the time I finished reading the first seventy pages or so, I had a major headache trying to keep up. At first, you’re thrust into Jenny’s world. Her parents decide to send her brother to college in England so he isn’t drafted into the war, like his best friend Matt. Jenny tags along and goes to a boarding school to make the shift all more realistic, so her brother isn’t seen as a coward for running from the war. Just as you get a glimpse into Jenny’s life and start to get comfortable as a reader into her world and her ways, next comes another perspective.
Insert Robbie, whose perspective has pretty horrific memories that later become his realization that he is gay in a time period that can be brutal to those suspected of being homosexual. This is partly the one valid reason why the book took place in the era, along with Jenny’s moving. There wasn’t much talk about the war at all – it didn’t seem like a very significant thing – but that was the least of what began to bug me throughout the novel. Once you get comfortable with Robbie’s voice and perspective on life, you get thrust into Brenda’s. Then Penelope’s. Then Percy’s, whose perspective is mainly in screenplays. Then Oona, who writes very annoying letters to a former student at Illington Hall. Oona’s perspective, especially, felt like a waste of space for the other characters. We knew that she was quite a self-centered liar by the way all of the other characters described her. So the fact that we are constantly thrust back and forth with characters we want to hear more about, but get two pointless chapters of a character who doesn’t further the plot, caused the book’s attempt at a thorough story to collapse.
Speaking of plot, this book didn’t have much of one. The book revolved around the lives of characters that go to the boarding school, besides Robbie, but he has two connections to two characters who go there, so fair play. I wouldn’t mind getting to know their lives if it somehow furthered the plot. There were at least two characters that didn’t further the plot at all, and others who only did in minor ways. I kept wondering what the book was initially striving for. Essentially, I knew everyone was hiding a secret, and a few big ones too, but it didn’t seem like a very great revelation for the book. There wasn’t much consequence either, regarding a few secrets. It almost felt like the book was a series of really great drafts that the author was trying to choose from. But instead, she decided to choose them all.
As a reviewer, I don’t mean to bash any book completely, especially this one. Frankly, it was very well-written. The characters were very raw and poignant, but unfortunately, limited down. If the end of the book maybe had something bigger to it, like a climax, perhaps, it could’ve easily become one of the best books published this year. But alas, I just couldn’t love something so loosely pieced together; it felt a bit messy and undone and unfinished.
Overall, the novel had a lot of potential. I was really rooting for it, but the strong parts couldn’t outweigh the weak parts. Maybe in a few years, I’ll change my mind. But for now, its flaws are no secret to me.
Because of this, I give it a 6.5/10.